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The Failure of Technology & the 
Survival of the Indian Nations 


author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television 

In the Absence 
of the Sacred 

In the Absence 
of the Sacred 

The Failure of Technology 
and the Survival 
of the Indian Nations 


Sierra Club Books ❖ Sun Francisco 

I I H' Sini.i 1 M ul>, founded in 1 Hi) a by Joint Mint, dcvoicd ilsrlf In ilir study and 
pulia tion ol the r, ii ill's mcuu and ct ulogn al icmhiucs mountains, wetlands, 
woodlands, wild shoies and livers, deserts ,ind plains. The publishing program of ihe 
Sic 1 1.1 Club otlci s books lo llir public as .1 nonprofit rdut ahonal service in t lie* hope thai 
tlu v in, iv enlarge the public's mulct standing ol I he ( Hub's basic concerns. The point of 
view expressed in each hook, however, does not necessarily represent thai of ihe Club. 
The Sierra Club has some sixty chapters coast lo coast, in ( '.anada, I lawan, and Alaska. 
For information about how you may participate in its programs lo preserve wilderness 
and the quality ol life, please address inquiries to 
Sierra Club, y^a Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109. 

Copyright © 1991 by Jerry Mander 
Sierra Club Hooks paperback edition: 1992 
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No 
part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical 
means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in 

writing from the publisher. 

The author gratefully acknowledges permission to reprint portions of the following 

copyrighted materials: 
From A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Hau De No Sau Address to the Western World, 
published by Akwesasne Notes, reprinted by permission of Akwesasne Notes; from Now 
That the Buffalo's Gone by Alvin Josephy, Jr., copyright © 1982 by Alvin Josephy, Jr., 
reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; from William N. Fenton, ed., Parser 
on the Iroquois (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1984), excerpts from pp. 12, 32, 38, 
39, 41, 55. By permission of the publisher; from Stone Age Economics by Marshall Sahlins, 

published by Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago. Reprinted by permission of 
Marshall Sahlins; excerpts from Village Journey by Thomas R. Berger. Copyright © 1985 
by Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Reprinted by permission of Hill and Wang, a division 
of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.; from Mind Children by Hans Moravcc. Reprinted by 
permission of the publisher, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, copyright © 

1988 by Hans Moravcc. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Mander, Jerry. 

In the absence of the sacred : the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian 

Nations / by Jerry Mander. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 
ISBN 0-87156-509-9 

1. Indians — Social conditions. 2. Indians — Land tenure. 3. Indians — Civil rights. 
4. Technology — Social aspects. 5. Technology — Moral and ethical aspects. I. Title. 
E98.S67M36 1 99 1 

970.004 '97 — dc2o 91-13869 


Jacket design by Paul Bacon 
Book design by Seventeenth Street Studios 
Composition by Wilsted U Taylor 
Production by Amy Evans 
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper containing a minimum of 
50% recovered waste paper, of which at least 10% is post-consumer waste. 
10 9 8 7 

To the memory of Dan Bomberry 







City, Woods, Suburbs ♦ Shopping ♦ Family Doctor ♦ Milton Berle ♦ Family 
Buick ♦ Florida ♦ Summer Camp ♦ Democracity ♦ The American Dream 


Ingredients of the Pro-Technology Paradigm 


"Holistic" Criticism ♦ Guilty Until Proven Innocent ♦ Retrospective 
Technology Assessment: Cars and Telephones ♦ Victims of Technology ♦ Ten 

Recommended Attitudes About Technology 




1. Pollution and Health 2. Employment 4. Quantification and Conceptual 
Change 4. Surveillance 5. The Rate of Acceleration 6. Centralization 

- Worst Case Sirnai 10: Automatic Computer Warlarr ♦ Can Wc Blame 

( lomputers? 

(1 I Al'TI-.K I I VI 

Living Inside Media ♦ Freedom ot Speech lor the Wealthy ♦ The Technology 
of Passivity ♦ Acceleration ol the Nervous System ♦ Perceptual Speedup and 
Contusion ♦ The Politics ot Contused Reality ♦ The Television President ♦ 

Late News: Video War 


The Case of the Dene Indians, 97 
"Unpopulated Icy Wasteland" ♦ Invasion from Outer Space ♦ Testimonies ♦ 
Effects on Storytelling ♦ Visit to School ♦ The Ravens 


Corporate Shame ♦ Corporate Schizophrenia ♦ The Corporate/Human 
Dilemma: Three Cases ♦ Eleven Inherent Rules of Corporate Behavior ♦ 

Form Is Content 


Business Opportunities in Space ♦ Futurists Love Space Travel ♦ Star 
Seeding: Sending the "Best Humans" to Space ♦ Banishment from Eden ♦ 
The West Edmonton Mall, Edmonton, Canada ♦ EPCOT Center, Orlando, 
Florida ♦ San Francisco, the Theme Park ♦ Antidote: Reinhabitation of the 



Scientist as Businessman ♦ Best-Case Scenarios ♦ Six Negative Points About 

Genetics ♦ Guilty Until Proven Innocent 


Molecular Engineering ♦ The Postbiological Age ♦ The Madness of the 
Astronaut ♦ Megatechnology ♦ Statement to the Modern World 




The Media: Indians Are Non-News ♦ Prevalent Stereotypes and Formulas ♦ 
Indians and the New Age ♦ Cultural Darwinism 


"Mother Earth" ♦ Table oflnherent Differences ♦ "We Are Helping You" 


Rule Without Coercion ♦ Our Founding Fathers, the Iroquois ♦ 
The Great Binding Law of the Iroquois Confederacy ♦ Iroquois Nation, 1991 


Pre-Technological Leisure ♦ Banker's Hours ♦ Dietary Intake ♦ Deliberate 
Underproduction ♦ The Choice of Subsistence ♦ The Creation of "Poverty" ♦ 
Fast Forward: Leisure in Technotopia ♦ The Alleged Superiority of Modern 

Resource Management 




The Case of the Hopi and Navajo, 265 
Declaration of Independence ♦ First Came the Hopi ♦ Arrival of the Navajo ♦ 
Hopi-Navajo Symbiosis ♦ The Americanization of Indian Governments ♦ 

Current Events 


From Communal to Corporate ♦ The Requirements of Corporate Profit ♦ 
"Social Engineering" ♦ ANCSA's Effect on the Yupik Eskimos ♦ Resistance 
to Cash Economy ♦ Reinstatement of Native ( iovenuuents 


riii-. rnij 'i or nkvada 

The Case of the Western Shoshoties, yt\ 
Lain) or Money? ♦ Indian (-hums Commission: Plot Against the Indiana ♦ 
"Wc Should Have Listened lo Our Old People" ♦ The Dunn Sisters' Case ♦ 
MX Missile ♦ Visits with the Government ♦ Current Events 


The Case of the Native Hawaiians, 319 
The Fourth or July, 1980 ♦ The Great Mahele ♦ The Invasion of Kahoolawe ♦ 

The Desecration of Pele ♦ Current Events 


"Fourth World" Wars ♦ The Pacific Basin ♦ Asia 


Canada ♦ Europe ♦ Africa ♦ Latin America 


1. Market Economy 2. "We Can't Go Back" 3. Signs of Life 

4. Against Pessimism 

Appendix, 397 

Acknowledgments, 407 

Bibliography, 411 

Index, 427 

In the Absence 
of the Sacred 



Telephone call from a New York editor: Mander, you've got two 
books out there now; they're both selling. Are you working on any- 
thing new? 
Mander: Yes. 

Editor: What's the subject? 
Mander: Indians. 

Editor: Indians? Oh God, not Indians. Nobody wants a book about In- 
dians. Indians have been done in New York; they're finished. Indians 

Mander: That's the point. The Indian problem is not over. In some parts 
of the world it's worse than it was here. 

Editor: Indians! Mander, you're some kind of goddamn romantic. Like 
Brando or somebody. 

Mander: Don't worry, I'll deal with that "romantic" thing in the book. 
Editor: How's your agent going to sell it? Indian books don't sell. 
Mander: They said that about TV books. Anyway, Indian books do sell. 
Look at Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and look at Castaneda and Peter 
Matthiessen's books. Look at Blac\ Ell{ Speaks. I don't think Indians are a 
passe subject at all. People do want to know about Indians. The trouble is 
that people are told mainly about dead Indians. They don't get to hear 
about what's going on now, or why. 
Editor: What's the title? 
Mander: Maybe I'll use your title. 
Editor: What title is that? 

Mander: Indians Shmindians. It's got a catchy paradoxical ring to it. It's 



memorable, its sensational, and it does seem to summarize our cultural 

• • • 

Originally I planned to write two books. The first was to be a critique of 
technological society as we know it in the United States, a kind of sequel 
to Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. Instead of concentrat- 
ing on TV, though, it would have focused on the new technological age: 
"the information society," computerization, robotization, space travel, 
artificial intelligence, genetics, satellite communications. This seemed 
timely, since these technologies are changing our world at an astoundingly 
accelerating rate. Thus far, most people view these changes as good. But 
are they? 

That our society would tend to view new technologies favorably is un- 
derstandable. The first waves of news concerning any technical innovation 
are invariably positive and optimistic. That's because, in our society, the 
information is purveyed by those who stand to gain from our acceptance 
of it: corporations and their retainers in the government and scientific 
communities. None is motivated to report the negative sides of new tech- 
nologies, so the public gets its first insights and expectations from sources 
that are clearly biased. 

Over time, as successive generations of idealized technical innovations 
are introduced and presented at World's Fairs, in futurists' visions, and in 
hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of advertising, we develop expec- 
tations of a technological Utopia here on Earth and in great domed cities 
in space. We begin to equate technological evolution with evolution itself, 
as though the two were equally inevitable, and virtually identical. The op- 
erating homilies become "Progress is good," "There's no turning back," 
and "Technology will free humans from disease, strife, and unremitting 

Debate on these subjects is inhibited by the fact that views of technology 
in our society are nearly identical across the political and social spectrum. 
The Left takes the same view of technology as do corporations, futurists, 
and the Right. Technology, they all say, is neutral. It has no inherent pol- 
itics, no inevitable social or environmental consequences. What matters, 
according to this view, is who controls technology. 

I have attended dozens of conferences in the last ten years on the future 
of technology. At every one, whether sponsored by government, industry, 
or environmentalists or other activists, someone will address the assembly 
with something like this: "There are many problems with technology and 
wc need to acknowledge them, but the problems are not rooted to the tech- 



nologies themselves. They are caused by the way we have chosen to use 
them. We can do better. We must do better. Machines don't cause prob- 
lems, people do." This is always said as if it were an original and profound 
idea, when actually everyone else is saying exactly the same thing. 

As we will see, the idea that technology is neutral is itself not neutral — 
it directly serves the interests of the people who benefit from our inability 
to see where the juggernaut is headed. 

I only began to glimpse the problem during the 1960s when I saw how 
excited our society became about the presumed potentials of television. 
Activists, like everyone else, saw the technology opportunistically, and be- 
gan to vie with other segments of society for their twenty seconds on the 
network news. A kind of war developed for access to this powerful new 
instrument that spoke pictures into the brains of the whole population, but 
the outcome was predetermined. We should have realized it was a fore- 
gone conclusion that TV technology would inevitably be controlled by 
corporations, the government, and the military. Because of the technolo- 
gy's geographic scale, its cost, the astounding power of its imagery, and its 
ability to homogenize thought, behavior, and culture, large corporations 
found television uniquely efficient for ingraining a way of life that served 
(and still serves) their interests. And in times of national crisis, the govern- 
ment and military find TV a perfect instrument for the centralized control 
of information and consciousness. Meanwhile, all other contenders for 
control of the medium have effectively fallen by the wayside. 

Now we have the frenzy over computers, which, in theory, can em- 
power individuals and small groups and produce a new information de- 
mocracy. In fact, as we will see in Chapter 4, the issue of who benefits most 
from computers was already settled when they were invented. Computers, 
like television, are far more valuable and helpful to the military, to mul- 
tinational corporations, to international banking, to governments, and to 
institutions of surveillance and control — all of whom use this technology 
on a scale and with a speed that are beyond our imaginings — than they 
ever will be to you and me. 

Computers have made it possible to instantaneously move staggering 
amounts of capital, information, and equipment throughout the world, 
giving unprecedented power to the largest institutions on the earth. In fact, 
computers make these institutions possible. Meanwhile, we use our per- 
sonal computers to edit our copy and hook into our information net- 
works — and believe that makes us more powerful. 

Even environmentalists have contributed to the problem by failing to 
effectively criticize technical evolution despite its obvious, growing, and 
inherent bias against nature. I fear that the ultimate direction of tcclinol 



ogy will become vividly clear to us only after we have popped out of the 
"information age" — which does have a kind of benevolent ring — and re- 
alize what is at stake in the last two big "wilderness intervention" battle- 
grounds: space and the genetic structures of living creatures. From there, 
it's on to the "postbiological age" of nanotechnology and robotics, whose 
advocates don't even pretend to care about the natural world. They think 
it's silly and out of date. 

This first book was intended to raise questions about whether techno- 
logical society has lived up to its advertising, and also to address some 
grave concerns about its future direction. Until now we have been impo- 
tent in the face of the juggernaut, partly because we are so unpracticed in 
technological criticism. We don't really know how to assess new or existing 
technologies. It is apparent that we need a new, more holistic language for 
examining technology, one that would ignore the advertised claims, best- 
case visions, and glamorous imagery that inundate us and systematically 
judge technology from alternative perspectives: social, political, economic, 
spiritual, ecological, biological, military. Who gains? Who loses? Do the 
new technologies serve planetary destruction or stability? What are their 
health effects? Psychological effects? How do they affect our interaction 
with and appreciation of nature? How do they interlock with existing 
technologies? What do they make possible that could not exist before? 
What is being lost? Where is it all going? Do we want that? 

In the end, we can see that technological evolution is leading to some- 
thing new: a worldwide, interlocked, monolithic, technical-political web 
of unprecedented negative implications. 

• • • 

The second book was to be a kind of continuation and update of Dee 
Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.T\\sX book impressed me tre- 
mendously when I read it twenty years ago. In one sense it was a masterful 
work, detailing in excruciating fashion U.S. double-dealing and brutality 
against the Indians. But in another sense Brown did the Indian cause a 
disservice by seeming to suggest that they were all wiped out, and that now 
there is nothing to be done. The book put the reader through an emotional 
catharsis; having read it, it was as if one had already paid one's dues. Com- 
bined with the popular imagery from television and films, the book helped 
remand Indian issues to the past. 

Even liberal-minded people, concerned about issues of justice, who ac- 
knowledge the atrocities committed on this land, tend to speak of Indian 
issues as tragedies of the distant past. So ingrained is this position that 
when, occasionally, non-Indians do come forward on behalf of present- 



clay Indian causes — Marlon Brando, William Kunstler, Robert Redford, 
Kevin Costner, Jane Fonda — they are all put into that "romantic" cate- 
gory. People are a bit embarrassed for them, as if they'd stepped over some 
boundary of propriety. When environmentalists such as David Brower oc- 
casionally speak publicly about how we should heed the philosophies of 
the Inuit (Eskimos), they are thought impractical, uncool, not politic, not 
team players. (And when a specific issue pits native traditions against some 
current environmental concern, such as fur trapping, or subsistence seal- 
ing, or whaling, the native viewpoint is not given a fair hearing.) Literary 
luminaries like Peter Matthiessen have also been chastised for books on 
contemporary Indian issues (In the Spirit of Crazy Horse and Indian Coun- 
try), with the implication that they should return to novels and Zen 

I have had my own experiences with this. In Four Arguments I reported 
several encounters with Indians as a way of revealing bias in the media. I 
was surprised at the number of critics who cited those lines as foolish. 
Gene Youngblood, for example, a respected radical writer on media issues, 
said, "Mander is so naive. . . . My God, that old sixties chestnut, the 

I thought that even Nelson Mandela got that treatment when he spoke 
about Indians at his 1990 Oakland rally. The news reports seemed to sug- 
gest that he didn't quite understand "our Indians." 

The Indian issue is not part of the distant past. Many of the worst anti- 
Indian campaigns were undertaken scarcely 80 to 100 years ago. Your 
great-grandparents were already alive at the time. The Model-T Ford was 
on the road. 

More to the point is that the assaults continue today. While the Custer 
period of direct military action against Indians may be over in the United 
States, more subtle though equally devastating "legalistic" manipulations 
continue to separate Indians from their land and their sovereignty, as we 
will see from the horrible events in Alaska, described in Chapter 16. 

There are still over one and a half million Indians in the United States 
today. Significant numbers of them continue to live in wilderness and de- 
sert regions and in the far north of Alaska, often engaging in traditional 
subsistence practices on the same lands where their ancestors lived tor mil- 
lennia. Contrary to popular assumptions, most of these Indians arc not 
eager to become Americans, despite the economic, cultural, and legal pres- 
sures to do so. 

Elsewhere in the world, millions ot native peoples also live in a tradi- 
tional manner, while suffering varying degrees of impact from (he expan- 
sion of Western technological society. In places such as Indonesia, Borneo, 



New Guinea, the Amazon forests, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, 
parts of central Africa, the north of Canada, and even Scandinavia, the 
Soviet Union, China, and Tibet, tribal peoples are struggling to defend 
their ancestral lands. In other places, such as India, Iraq, Turkey, Mexico, 
Chile, the Pacific islands, New Zealand, and Australia, millions more na- 
tive peoples live a kind of in-between existence, while they are under cul- 
tural, economic, or military siege. 

According to Cultural Survival, the Boston-based human rights organ- 
ization, there are at least 3,000 native nations in the world today that con- 
tinue to function within the boundaries of the 200-odd countries that 
assert sovereignty over them. Many wars that our media describe as "civil 
wars" or "guerrilla insurgencies" are actually attempts by tribal nations to 
free themselves of the domination of larger nation-states. In Guatemala, 
it's the Mayans. In Burma, it's the Karens. In the Amazon, it's the Yano- 
mamo and the Xingu, among others. In Micronesia, it's the Belauans. In 
Indonesia, it's the peoples of Irian Jaya. 

Perhaps the most painful realization for Americans is that in many of 
these foreign locales — particularly South America, the Pacific islands, In- 
donesia, and the Philippines — the natives' struggles to maintain their 
lands and sovereignty is often directed against United States corporations, 
or technology, or military. More to the point, it is directed against a men- 
tality, and an approach to the planet and to the human place on Earth, that 
native people find fatally flawed. For all the centuries they've been in con- 
tact with us, they've been saying that our outlook is missing something. But 
we have ignored what they say. To have heeded them would have meant 
stopping what we were doing and seeking another path. It is this very dif- 
ference in world views that has made the assault on Indian people 

• • • 

While planning to write these two books, however, it became apparent to 
me that their subjects were inseparable. They belonged together as one 
book. There is no way to understand the situation of Indians, Eskimos, 
Aborigines, island peoples, or other native societies without understand- 
ing the outside societies that act upon them. And there is no way to un- 
derstand the outside societies without understanding their relationships to 
native peoples and to nature itself. 

All things considered, it may be the central assumption of technological 
society that there is virtue in overpowering nature and native peoples. The 
Indian problem today, as it always has been, is directly related to the needs 
of technological societies to find and obtain remotely located resources, in 



order to ruel an incessant and intrinsic demand for growth and techno- 
logical fulfillment. The process began in our country hundreds of years 
ago when we wanted land and gold. Today it continues because we want 
coal, oil, uranium, fish, and more land. As we survey the rest of the 
world — whether it is the Canadian Arctic, the Borneo jungle, or the Bra- 
zilian rainforest — the same interaction is taking place for the same rea- 
sons, often involving the same institutions. 

All of these acts were and are made possible by one fundamental ratio- 
nalization: that our society represents the ultimate expression of evolution, 
its final flowering. It is this attitude, and its corresponding belief that na- 
tive societies represent an earlier, lower form on the evolutionary ladder, 
upon which we occupy the highest rung, that seem to unify all modern 
political perspectives: Right, Left, Capitalist, and Marxist. 

Save for such nascent movements as bioregionalism and Green politics, 
which have at least questioned the assumptions underlying this attitude, 
most people in Western society are in agreement about our common su- 
periority. So it becomes okay to humiliate — to find insignificant and thus 
subject to sacrifice — any way of life or way of thinking that stands in the 
way of a kind of "progress" we have invented, which is scarcely a century 
old. In fact, having assumed such superiority, it becomes more than ac- 
ceptable for us to bulldoze nature and native societies. To do so actually 
becomes desirable, inevitable, and possibly "divine." 

But the assertion that technological society is something higher than 
what came before, and that it is bound to bring us a better world, has lately 
fallen open to grave doubts. The Industrial Revolution is about a century 
old, and we have had ample time to draw a few conclusions about how it 
is going. It is not too soon to observe that this revolution may not be living 
up to its advertising, at least in terms of human contentment, fulfillment, 
health, sanity, and peace. And it is surely creating terrible and possibly cat- 
astrophic impacts on the earth. Technotopia seems already to have failed, 
but meanwhile it continues to lurch forward, expanding its reach and be- 
coming more arrogant and dangerous. 

The next questions become: Can we expect the situation to improve or 
worsen in the future? And what of the people who always told us that this 
way could not work, and continue to say so now? Finally, which is the 
more "romantic" viewpoint: that technology will fix itself and lead us to 
paradise, or that the answer is something simpler? 



Modern technology advanced in such tiny increments for so 
long that we never realized how much our world was being altered, or 
the ultimate direction of the process. But now the speed of change is acceler- 
ating logarithmically. It is apparent that developing a language and set of stan- 
dards by which to assess technological impact, and to blocks it where necessary, 
is a critical survival skill of our times. 



/was born in 1936. At that time there were no jet airplanes and com- 
mercial plane travel was effectively nonexistent. There were no com- 
puters, no space satellites, no microwave ovens, no electric typewriters, no 
Xerox machines, no tape recorders. There were no stereo music systems 
nor compact disks. There was no television in 1936. No space travel, no 
atomic bomb, no hydrogen bomb, no "guided missiles," as they were first 
called, no "smart" bombs. There were no fluorescent lights, no washing 
machines nor dryers, no Cuisinarts, no VCRs. There was no air condi- 
tioning. Nor were there freeways, shopping centers, or malls. There were 
no suburbs as we know them. There was no Express Mail, no fax, no tele- 
phone touch dialing, no birth-control pill. There were no credit cards, no 
synthetic fibers. There were no antibiotics, no artificial organs, no pesti- 
cides or herbicides. That was fifty-five years ago. During my lifetime all 
of this changed. 


When I was four years old, our family moved from the Bronx to Yon 
kers, just three miles north of the New York City border. To me, it was 
like moving to the wilderness. I remember my first sight of our new house. 
Small, neat, brick with white trim, located at the end ol a dirt road, sur 
rounded by woods. I saw deer, pheasant, toxes, raccoons, anil owls. 



When I started school at age five, I walked there on a path through the 
woods. I still remember details of that path: a tangle of roots that I had to 
climb over; an old maple tree that I grew to like, much as one likes another 
person. Walking this path twice daily, I kept track of minor changes, like 
the ever-deepening channels the rain's runofF left in the mud. My mother 
told me, "That's how the Grand Canyon got started." I was dazzled by the 

Within two years, the dirt road in front of our house was converted to 
gravel, and four houses were built about fifty feet from each other. More 
were planned. I watched the trees fall to make way for the new construc- 
tion. There was a big debate in our house: Should we buy the plot directly 
behind our property to keep it from being developed? We didn't buy it. 
My parents could not believe the hillside behind us would ever be devel- 
oped. Within a few years it became the largest apartment development in 
that part of Yonkers. We planted fir trees along our back fence for privacy, 
but we were beginning to feel closed in. Soon after, we had our first park- 
ing problem. 

Eventually our gravel street was converted to asphalt, and a few years 
later a yellow line was painted down the middle. My path through the 
woods became the New York Thruway. The unending noise of speeding 
cars and trucks blotted out the sounds of wind and birds. By 1955, the 
woods and the animals were gone, replaced by hundreds of little brick 
houses very much like our own, with lawns in front and back, and fences. 
Our neighborhood had become a middle-class suburb. 

My parents took a friendly view of these changes. Although the nearly 
rural environment to which they had escaped was virtually destroyed, they 
and their friends found solace in the fact that this was progress, and that 
someone was making money from it all. Most of the neighbors were of 
Jewish and Italian immigrant backgrounds. To them, these developments 
confirmed the greatness of America. 


My mother's favorite activity was shopping, and I loved to go with her. 
My mother approached this task with the attitude of an Eastern European. 
She was born in Romania, where the town square was also its marketplace 
and social center. 

Her favorite place to shop was back in the Bronx on Jerome Avenue, 
around the corner from where we used to live. Jerome Avenue might as 



well have been Eastern Europe. Shopkeepers put their wares out on the 
sidewalk: used clothing, knitting goods, leather, produce, kosher meats, 
baked goods, and fish. Interspersed with all this were delicatessens and 
tiny repair shops. 

The food stores were the most exciting. Pickle barrels, hanging salamis, 
sawdust on the floor. The accepted manner of shopping for food was to 
yell and argue, often in Yiddish. People would gather around a pile of fish 
and have long debates about them, pointing, analyzing, picking, and turn- 
ing them over. The street teemed with people and it seemed my mother 
knew at least half of them. 

By the time I was ten, we stopped visiting Jerome Avenue. The Cross 
County Shopping Center in Yonkers was completed. Located a few miles 
from our house, Cross County was celebrated as the largest shopping cen- 
ter in the New York area, and some claimed it was the largest in the world. 
It was to become a prototype for the "mailing" movement that has since 
swept the country. But in the mid-forties this kind of shopping environ- 
ment was entirely new. Huge department stores were surrounded by small 
franchise operations (another marketing innovation of the forties). No 
"Mom-and-Pop" stores. No sawdust. No small food stores at all — one 
A&P supermarket dominated the scene. No discussions with proprietors 
about the nuances of codfish. In fact, no proprietors — these stores were 
owned by conglomerates, not people. Shopping stopped being fun. No 
longer a social event, no longer a community event, it was now a business 
transaction. No longer small-scale and intimate, shopping changed as the 
physical environment did: from woods to suburbs, from marketplace to 


The most admired and the most flamboyant person in Lincoln Park, 
our Yonkers neighborhood, was Morris Woodrow, the doctor. The im- 
migrants who lived in this neighborhood were impressed by the simple 
fact that one of their own had become a doctor. But Woodrow was more 
than an ordinary doctor. He lived in the largest house in the neighbor- 
hood — a pillared, Georgian-style mansion. He kept two black Cadillacs 

parked conspicuously in front of his house, and he had a chauffeur a 

daring act in Lincoln Park, where most people's goal was to seem as mid- 
dle-class American as possible. If you had extra money, you didn't flaunt 
it. Woodrow did. 


He was also interested in music and the arts, another daring stance in 
Lincoln Park, lb express his interest, he would don his smoking jacket 
every Sunday morning and stroll slowly down Kneeland Avenue, holding 
two large Afghans on leashes, while singing arias in Italian. The neighbors 
thought this very eccentric, but they liked it. 

As oddball as Woodrow was thought to be, if you became ill, you called 
him. He would come to your house any time, even in the middle of the 
night wearing a silk bathrobe, his long moustache freshly waxed, carrying 
his black satchel. Upon entering the house he would sing. If it was a child 
who was sick, he would also perform a few magic tricks. Much of the time 
Woodrow never actually examined his patients. He'd stare at you for a mo- 
ment or two, then look at your tongue. Sometimes he'd yell at you to stop 
making believe you were sick; then he'd say that if you wanted to see sici{ 
you should come by his office sometime. 

If you insisted that you really were sick, he might do some tapping on 
your bones or give you an unmarked concoction of his own invention. In 
rare cases he handed out sulfa drugs, and very rarely, penicillin. He spoke 
favorably of these new drugs, but strongly disapproved of doctors who 
ordered penicillin for colds. 

Woodrow lived between the old medicine and the new, as did all of us 
in those days. He used modern techniques but only in emergencies. This 
applied even to such matters as eyeglasses. As a child I suffered from styes 
on my eyelids. An ophthalmologist blamed the styes on eye strain and pre- 
scribed glasses. When Woodrow saw me on the street one day and noticed 
the glasses, he took them away and said I didn't need them. He telephoned 
the ophthalmologist, yelled at him, called him a shyster, and hung up. 
Woodrow told me the styes were caused by dirt, or else they were inexpli- 
cable and anyway they would disappear when I got older, which they did. 
It wasn't until thirty-five years later that I started wearing glasses again. 

Woodrow had a very special relationship with my father, who was a 
hypochondriac. My father would monitor every little muscle twitch and 
assume the worst. This took a toll on all of us, particularly me, but when 
Woodrow took charge, everything regained its proper perspective. As 
soon as Woodrow saw one of my father's worried looks, he would launch 
into a series of sex jokes. These embarrassed my father but he laughed if 
only to keep up his courage. Next came the examination, followed by a 
session of teasing. "Harry, would you stop worrying, for chrissakes, your 
constitution is so goddamned strong they couldn't kill you if they ran 
horses over you." Now and then Woodrow would give my father an as- 
pirin, which he considered a bona fide wonder drug. 



Years later, when my parents finally retired to Florida, they lost contact 
with Morris Woodrow. My father fell prey to that voracious breed of doc- 
tor that seems to be spawned by places where there are a lot of old people. 
One of the Miami doctors diagnosed my father as having high blood pres- 
sure. Pills were prescribed that, in turn, seemed to affect his heartbeat. 
When another doctor noted my father's irregular heartbeat he put him on 
other pills that caused water retention, requiring yet another round of pills 
to deal with that problem. 

Through the Yonkers expatriate grapevine, Morris Woodrow, still liv- 
ing in Yonkers, heard what was going on. He telephoned one day to tell 
my father that "for chrissakes, you've always had an irregular heartbeat; 
the whole damned family has irregular heartbeats; stop taking those 
pills!*' Woodrow said he'd never told my father about his heart condition 
because the news would have stimulated my father's hypochondria, caus- 
ing him to worry so much that his blood pressure would have gone up. 
Woodrow assumed that he would be our family doctor forever, and that 
he'd be able to deal with problems as they arose. 

Anyway, by the time of the phone call, my parents had accepted the 
high-tech medical solutions of the "big doctors" in Florida. The pill cycle 
continued: pills that made my father fuzzy-headed, which caused anxiety, 
which caused urine retention and release, which raised and lowered his 
blood pressure, and round and round. My father never did get off the pill 
wheel. About two years after Woodrow s call he was dead. 


I lived most of my childhood without television. It wasn't until 1949, 
when I was thirteen, that the first TV showed up on Kneeland Avenue. 
My family didn't have one until about a year later. 

As a small child listening to radio I had clung to the idea that little 
people lived inside the radio box and were performing for me alone. Every 
other explanation of the technology was beyond my grasp. But by puberty, 
I'd accepted — without questioning, without understanding — that voices 
somehow were transmitted through wires as they were with the telephone 
(another mystery). 

Television was only slightly more mysterious than the radio and the 
telephone. The idea that pictures could be transmitted through the air and 
through wires was befuddling to me then, and still befuddles me today, 
but I had learned a modern skill: acceptance. 



One day my parents came home all excited and told me that the Edel- 
sons down the street had bought a television set — "Like the movies but 
right in their house!" — and we were all invited to see it. The set was one 
of those original Philco projection systems. The cathode-ray tube was be- 
low the line of sight, inside a box; it projected its image onto a silverized 
angled screen. To see anything, you had to sit almost directly in front of 
the screen. If you sat off to the side, the image would fade. And the image 
was . . . Milton Berle! In addition were Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Mel 
Allen, Steve Allen, Edward R. Murrow, Omnibus, Hallmark Theater. 
Television programming in the early days was funkier and smaller scale 
than now: simple comedy, sports, and an up-close live theater format that 
was daring and spontaneous. 

But probably the best thing about television in its early years was that 
there was not much of it. Programming began most days about 4 p.m. and 
continued only until 11 p.m. or midnight. And since few people owned 
sets, television viewing was a communal, neighborhood experience. Mrs. 
Edelson would invite everyone on the block and serve cake and cookies. 
On Milton Berle nights there might be a dozen people jammed in front of 
the screen, hooting and laughing. In those days TV had the quality of 
movie-going: viewing was a group event, with socializing before and after. 
Soon, however, each family had its own set, or sets. Programming ex- 
tended to all hours, day and night. A community event was transformed 
into an isolated experience: at first, families watched alone; then soon each 
individual was left alone in his or her own room, silently watching. 


Cars were a very important subject in Lincoln Park. There were con- 
stant discussions among males of all age groups concerning auto design, 
performance, and symbolic significance of a particular model: Was it 
"classy" or not? My friends and I had a game we would play to see who 
would be first to identify an oncoming car from blocks away by model, 
brand, and year. Howie DugofF was the best. Within two blocks, he never 

The 1950s brought the concept of "planned obsolescence." The adver- 
tisements of the period emphasized newness and in Lincoln Park people 
took the idea seriously. Local mores required replacing your car at least 
every two years, and I knew only one person who defied this rule: my uncle 
and next door neighbor, Lou Oser. The Oser family owned two cars, one 


of which was an cvery-two-years new Oldsmobile. But Lou had a second 
car, a 1938 LaSalle coupe. He used that car for his daily ten-mile round 
trip from Yonkers to the northern end of the New York IRT subway line, 
which carried him the rest of the way to his office in lower Manhattan. 
What made this devotion to the LaSalle so surprising was that in every 
other dimension of his existence, Lou was an absolute conformist. But he 
saw no reason to trade in the LaSalle, which worked perfectly well. This 
stance caused enormous stress on his wife, his children, and the neighbors. 
People on Kneeland Avenue were embarrassed by this "old" car, and 
viewed Lou's commitment to it as an almost radical act in rare defiance of 
the virtually patriotic consumerist mood that was gaining speed in the 

My own family owned a Buick sedan, rotated every three years. My fa- 
ther believed strongly in big cars. Not only were they more prestigious, he 
felt, but in case of collision they would protect us better than some of those 
little European imports that everyone criticized. 

I remember the car's wool-covered seats, good for sleeping on long 
drives from the grandparents' home in Brooklyn. When awake, I would 
fixate on the speedometer; I noticed that this Buick apparently could be 
driven at 120 miles per hour. I wondered, Why were cars built to go that 
fast when 60 miles per hour was the speed limit? I think that question 
signaled my first inkling of the role of imagination in technology. 

In Yonkers, we used cars to go everywhere. If you needed to go three 
blocks to the grocery store, you drove. The only time of year that cars were 
not used was during the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and 
Yom Kippur. On those days you walked, not drove, to the synagogue. 
What a sight! The usually empty sidewalks were filled with formally 
dressed people walking arm in arm to temple, as if it were a Sunday prom- 
enade in Vienna. The only cars that moved were operated by Italians. 
They drove slowly to respect the mood of the event. 

I experienced another car-free moment when I was about eleven years 
old. A blizzard covered New York City with several feet oi snow. The 
newspaper screamed city paralyzed, and spoke of people panicking and 
cars stalled in drifts. The morning after the storm, at the height of the 
city's paralysis, my father absolutely had to get to his office in lower Man- 
hattan. I went along. We walked through the snow about a halt-mile to a 
streetcar line, which was still operating, and which took us to the New 
York subway, also operating. When we emerged at Eighteenth Street anil 
Sixth Avenue, we encountered an amazing sight. The streets were quiet. 
Everything was white. Far from panicking, people were out playing in 



snow drifts, having a great time. The media had utterly distorted what was 
going on. Why? Panic makes better news than peacefulness and pleasure. 


At least once each year, my parents took us to Florida, their favorite 
place in the world. They had always dreamed of retiring there someday to 
what was still a tropical paradise: palm forests, great empty white beaches, 
flocks of storks and pelicans. But by the time my parents made their move, 
paradise had been paved, condo-ized, and submerged beneath high-rise 
buildings. Later, when I asked my parents if they were sorry about what 
had happened to Florida, they admitted they were, but that it was prog- 
ress, and that was good. 

Usually we took the train to Florida: two days, one night. It seemed 
unbearably long to me, though I loved sleeping in those neat little rooms 
and gazing out the window. The industrial soot-covered towns of the 
Northeast gave way to deep forests; further south, the landscape became 
green and sultry. In South Carolina and Georgia, the train passed within 
yards of shantytown villages. Black people, lounging in their yards or on 
porches, waved at us as the train sped by. My mind flew into those tiny 
houses, covered with tarpaper, but I could not imagine what life might be 
like for the people who lived there. At train stops, we would go out on the 
platform and drink at the fountains marked "Whites Only." 

Now and then we traveled south by car. It was slower than the train and 
less comfortable, but it allowed us to stop at various roadside Wonders of 
the World: mystery houses, dinosaur bones, snake pits, petrified forests. 
Along the eastern edge of the Everglades in Florida, there was an "au- 
thentic Seminole Indian Village." I saw my first Indians. Though I had 
once read about Indians in school — what they wore, what they ate, and 
how they were all gone — I was surprised to find that any of them were 
still alive. I was told not to touch or go near any of them. The older Indians 
were making moccasins, beaded necklaces, and caps with "Seminole" 
stitched on them. One gigantic Indian man wrestled an alligator, success- 
fully prying open its mouth and placing a stick in it to keep its jaws apart. 
Eventually my eyes wandered beyond the immediate scene; I saw that we 
were on the edge of a deep cypress swamp. There were Indian canoes at 
the edge of the water. Looking inside the cypress forest I could see houses 
that appeared to be built right into the trees. I couldn't imagine why any- 



one would live in a place like this. The swamp looked dangerous to me. I 
was glad when we finally left. 


My summers were spent at camp in Massachusetts. It was a sports- 
oriented camp: baseball, basketball, swimming, and volleyball. Team 
sports. The emphasis was on winning. One period per week, however, we 
had what was called "nature." The nature counselor seemed weird to most 
of us since he never played sports. He was forever collecting ferns and 
working in his "nature shop." He would take us on walks through nearby 
meadows, pointing out flowers, telling us their Latin names, making us 
write notes. We hated these walks. They always seemed to come on the 
hottest day of the week; there were too many bugs, and we wanted to play 
baseball. Sometimes the nature counselor kept us indoors to dissect frogs 
and snakes, which was oddly fascinating. I learned that animals had vir- 
tually the same organs as human beings. 

It was during summer camp in 1945 — I was nine years old — that we 
all awoke from an obligatory afternoon nap to see the counselors huddled 
around a radio. Someone came running in with an afternoon newspaper: 
u.s. drops atomic bomb on japs. There was excited discussion about how 
an entire city had been wiped out by just one bomb. I couldn't imagine 
such a thing, but I was impressed. Everyone was saying that it meant that 
the war — maybe all wars — would soon be over. For days I tried to un- 
derstand exactly what an A-bomb was, but no one could explain it. Pres- 
ident Truman spoke to the public on radio and said it was a grave 
responsibility to have invented this instrument, but it had been God s will 
that we produced it when we did. As a result we were able to save thou- 
sands of American lives. In the future, Truman promised, nuclear energy 
would be used only for peaceful, humane purposes. 

Within a few years the Russians, without the help of God, also pro- 
duced an A-bomb, and we were off to the races. 

To me personally, the fact of nuclear weapons meant that throughout 
my teenage years I was always scared. I realized that in one instant my life 
could be over. We began doing regular air-raid drills in school. We mem- 
orized what to do if the bomb was dropped nearby: Don't look at the flash, 
get under your desk, don't drink the water, listen to the Civil Defense. 

Of all the technological influences of my childhood, nuclear weapons 
clearly had the greatest impact on my mind. They made me doubt the hi- 



ture, and they were an iron-listed message that fabulous technical forces 
were out there — forces that contained enough overwhelming power to 
shatter any lingering notion that I could control my existence. 

By the time I was thirteen or fourteen I became obsessed with the pos- 
sibility of nuclear war. I kept imagining nuclear explosions with my family 
being ripped apart. What a stupid situation. Here I was at the beginning 
of my life and already the thought of annihilation was foremost in my 
mind. A tremendous amount of my emotional and intellectual attention 
revolved around how to live my life, given the existence of this one piece 
of technology. Worst of all, no one seemed able to talk about it — not my 
school, not my family, not the media. It was a profound technological ex- 
perience shared by everyone in the United States and in most other parts 
of the world, but each person went through it alone. 


If nuclear technology created a terrifying vision of how life on Earth 
might turn out, it was virtually the only technology to so reveal itself. The 
dominant mood of the 1940s and 1950s was totally gung-ho for technol- 
ogy, with idealized romantic visions — fantasies, I'd say — of a technoto- 
pian future. 

Foremost in the creation of this vision was the great New York World's 
Fair of 1939 and 1940. More than any previous event, it emblazoned into 
the public mind a new set of expectations for technology, which was com- 
ing just over the horizon. My parents took me there when I was four years 
old. I was awed by everything. 

The most dramatic visions were within the corporate pavilions: dio- 
ramas of sparkling-clean, seven-tiered techno-cities. Monorails transport- 
ing people at 200 miles per hour. Sleek, long-finned cars moving at 
incredible speeds on elevated roadways. Private planes and helicopters 
whirling between 500-story buildings. Humans flying about with little 
rocket packs on their backs, while robots, at street level, walked the dogs. 

The DuPont exhibit contained the "typical home of the future." Syn- 
thetic everything. A staff of robots could be summoned by the touch of a 
button. Another button encircled you with the "natural environment" of 
your choice: mountains, meadows, oceans. With the help of a computer- 
TV-looking thing you could order your groceries, get your newspaper, or 
speak to friends (with their images on-screen) anywhere in the world. 

The diorama called "Democracity" predicted the urban and suburban 



lifestyles of the future. The cities of twenty years hence (i960) were de- 
picted as having eliminated all slums and blight. They were filled with 
parks. Energy sources were unlimited by then; the climate was perfectly 

Outer-space exhibits showed smiling white Americans living happily 
inside domed environments on other planets. Another exhibit showed 
how, with modern air conditioning, we would soon be living under- 
ground. The "Frontiers of Medicine and Science*' exhibit predicted the 
conquering of all disease, the extension of our lifespan to hundreds of 
years — or forever — the elimination of insect blight by pesticides, and the 
end of poverty. 

More than 45 million people attended the New York Worlds Fair dur- 
ing its two-year run. All of them experienced what was essentially an ad- 
vertisement for a future lifestyle. Following a decade of depression, such 
a vision of techno-paradise looked wonderful. The DuPont dream could 
be everyone's dream. Wouldn't everyone want an automated household, 
with its own natural environments, and push-button shopping? Doesn't 
everyone love little robots? Wouldn't everyone want to live forever? It was 
a kick just thinking about it. 

As a child of those times, I found the images thrilling and powerful. 
They became a kind of mental blueprint that I carried into the future, in 
common with most of my generation, I believe. These images affected the 
way we all envisioned our lives. That the vision was merely a corporate 
representation of the future never occurred to me. That there might be 
problems associated with that vision, or alternatives to it, was never 


During the two decades following the World's Fair, similar images be- 
came prevalent in the mass media, especially in advertising. A 1942 B. F. 
Goodrich advertisement proclaimed, "Following our victory in this war 
will come a new America. An America which will startle the world be- 
cause of the way people create . . . The men and machines are already on 
the job. The will and determination are already at work. But today the 
effort is devoted to winning the war. Tomorrow, they'll be devoted to the 
creation of a new America." It was the role of the advertising industry to 
be sure this new America was realized. 

By the time the Second World War ended, advertising was extolling the 



virtues of appliances ("dinner without drudgery"), frozen foods, and 
clothes made of plastic ("plastics are new, plastics are smart, nothing is 
sewn"). American Cyanamid ads promised to move mountains, to build 
"thruways . . . pioneer triumphs of engineering and transportation, safety, 
speed, and convenience, without stoplights, crossings, sharp turns, or no- 
ticeable grades." Ads promoted throwaway living, disposable items to cut 
down household chores, and scientific food production, including feeding 
antibiotics to livestock and using pesticides on crops. DuPont was prom- 
ising, "Better things for better living through chemistry" Westinghouse 
was saying, "There's a lift to living electronically." 

These were the decades in which the American Dream was being cre- 
ated. Technology was going to make anything and everything possible. 
With the war over, not even the sky was the limit. Negative thinking was 
eschewed. A 1949 report by H. G. Moulton, president of the Brookings 
Institution, argued that the production capacity of the U.S. could support 
a population of 300 million people at eight times the (1949) standard of 
living. The report predicted a future abundance fueled by factories and 
mines that would produce five to ten times more, farms that would pro- 
duce three times more, plus massive ocean cultivation and the reclamation 
of swamps and deserts for food production. "There is no known limit," 
said Moulton, "to the potential wealth of the world." 

Ronald Reagan was the radio voice of the General Electric ad cam- 
paigns of that era. Years later, when he was president, Reagan employed 
the same kind of optimistic, expectant rhetoric. Hearing him speak of the 
wonderful things his Star Wars scheme would achieve, I heard the same 
style and many of the same words from the commercial imagery of the 
post- World War II period. In fact, Reagan's success may be explained in 
part by his connection to that optimistic time; everyone who is over thirty 
today grew up with that rhetoric ringing in his or her ears. It was cheerful, 
it created positive imagery, and it came at a time when amazing things 
really did seem possible. 

The new value system that was sold in the forties and fifties was de- 
signed to fuel the most massive expansion of the U.S. industrial and mar- 
keting sectors in history. The "American way of life" became an 
advertising theme; it drew an explicit equation between how much you 
consumed and how American you were. During the Truman-Eisenhower 
years, the American ideal of consumerism was directly juxtaposed with 
Russia's emphatically nonconsumerist stance. In the 1950s, buying a wash- 
ing machine was a blow against communism. 

This value system incorporated certain key attitudes: Technological in- 
novation is good. It is always good. It aids health. It saves labor. It is the 



engine that drives economic growth, which in turn drives the American 
standard of living upward, which benefits all people. Technical innovation 
promotes democracy, freedom, and leisure. Technical and scientific prog- 
ress will spread around the world and relieve all people of the awful toil 
that has oppressed them since the dawn of time. Someday, every place will 
look like the World's Fair. It is inevitable. You can't turn back the clock. 

For me, going through my teenage years in that period; for my family 
and neighbors; and I believe for most Americans, there was the disposition 
to go along with it all. Swept along by the rhetoric and hype, it was as 
though we found ourselves living within a gigantic environmental theatre. 
We sat and watched while they rolled away one diorama and replaced it 
with another and then another. While our world was being dramatically 
transformed, while places we loved were fast deteriorating, while lifestyles 
were sharply altered, while the forest receded, while open land was paved 
over and built upon, while pollution and smog became commonplace, 
while small towns began to look like New York City, and New York City 
began to resemble Fritz Lang's Metropolis, we watched as if it were a 

To say that we, the public, had no participation in these vast changes 
would be inaccurate. We lived in the world; we interacted with the chang- 
ing environment. By our silence we gave our tacit approval. But no one 
ever inquired into what we thought about it all. No one ever indicated that 
there could be a question about the process. It all happened so fast, and 
with so much power, it was difficult to grasp what was changing, as it was 
changing. The process itself overpowered all doubt. We asked no ques- 
tions. We never had time to think it through. Even if we'd had the time, 
we didn't have the thoughts or the words by which to articulate our con- 
cerns. There was no language of technological evaluation, nor is there one 
now. The parameters of the discussion, even the parameters of thought, 
were predefined by corporate, governmental, and scientific institutions. 
No formal means existed by which ordinary people could engage in dis- 
cussions or debates, or could hear the pros and cons of what was happen- 
ing. There were no national referenda, save for what apppeared in the 
media. And the media reports were mainly confined to advertising or gov- 
ernment predictions. If there existed an alternative view, it remained 
within intellectual and cultural circles not visible to the average American. 

In the absence of an alternative vision, the paradigm was confirmed 
that technological innovation was good, invariably good, and would be the 
principal means by which our society would solve its problems anil pro- 
duce a better world. 

Fifty years later, however, as the world hurtles toward its greatest en 

2 4 


vironmental crisis since the dawn of human life, a crisis driven by the in- 
satiable need to feed resources to the technological machine, and to 
consume them as commodities, we are at an appropriate moment to ques- 
tion whether this path we have chosen and celebrated has lived up to its 
promise, and if not, if it ever will. 



Given the celebratory claims of the 1940s and 1950s (and since) 
concerning the Utopia that would result if our society vaulted itself 
into the new technological age, it's clear that we need some standards of 
measurement to compare the claims with the results. If even a small per- 
cent of the expectations had proven true, we'd be well on the way to be- 
coming the first industrial-technological-scientific paradise on Earth. 
Over the last fifty years, new technologies have been advertised as enhanc- 
ing happiness, freedom, empowerment, health, and physical comfort; or 
else as reducing toil, while also providing jobs, serving democracy, and 
making life more beautiful and pleasant. Over time the aggregate of such 
assertions created our technotopian fantasies of unlimited expectations. 
We believed them in the 1940s and 1950s, and we still believe them now. 
But have these promises been realized? And by what standards do we 
judge the success or the failure of the path we have followed? 

I suppose that in order to be considered even minimally successful, a 
society must keep its population healthy, peaceful, and contented. All 
members should have sufficient food to eat, a place to live, and a sense of 
participation in a shared community purpose. Everyone should have access 
to the collective wisdom and knowledge of the society, and should expect 
that life will be spiritually and emotionally fulfilling for themselves and 
for future generations. This in turn implies awareness, care, and respect 
for the earth's life-support systems. 

Obviously, anyone could quibble about certain points on this list, or 
wish to add others, but to me they seem to be a basic minimum. And since 



it s been for roughly half a century that this technological vision has been 
aggressively hyped, now is a good time to compare its promise with its 

• • • 

People who celebrate technology say it has brought us an improved stan- 
dard of living, which means greater speed (people can travel faster and 
obtain more objects and information sooner), greater choice (often 
equated with freedom of choice, which usually refers to the ability to 
choose among jobs and commodities), greater leisure (because technology 
has supposedly eased the burden and time involved in work), and greater 
luxury (more commodities and increased material comfort). None of these 
benefits informs us about human satisfaction, happiness, security, or the 
ability to sustain life on Earth. Perhaps getting places more quickly makes 
some people more contented or fulfilled, but I'm not so sure. Nor am I 
convinced that greater choice of commodities in the marketplace qualifies 
as satisfying compared with, say, love and friendship and meaningful 
work. Nor do I believe that choice equals "freedom," if one defines the 
latter as a sense that one has true control over one's own mind and 

As for leisure, I believe that what passes for leisure in our society is ac- 
tually time-filling: watching television or buying things. Many writers 
have argued that given the consequences of automation and robotics, most 
free time may soon be spent searching for increasingly scarce jobs. And as 
Marshall Sahlins and others have pointed out (as we will see in Chapter 
14), stone -age societies had more than twice the amount of leisure time we 
do today, which they used to pursue spiritual matters, personal relation- 
ships, and pleasure. Finally, people such as Ivan Illich have said that if you 
include the time needed to earn money to pay for and repair all the ex- 
pensive "time-saving" gadgets in our lives, modern technology actually 
deprives us of time. 

In addition to improved standard of living, another argument for the 
success of the technological path concerns the contributions of modern 
medicine. There is no disagreeing that modern medicine, though it has 
not produced eternal life as was predicted by the world's fairs of the 1940s 
(and now the 1990s), has contributed to longevity. Combined with anti- 
biotic technology, sanitation, and improved diagnostics, modern medicine 
has improved life expectancy in the technologically advanced parts of the 

On the other hand, critics such as Illich argue that modern medicine 



may be a double-edged sword. By separating people from traditional ho- 
listic self-care practices, and by dubious medical interventions with drugs 
and surgery, modern medicine may cause as much disease as it cures. 
Other critics suggest that Western medicine cannot be separated from the 
whole web of technologies that are its parents and children: computers, 
certain reproductive interventions, biotechnology, and genetics, all of 
which are problematic in some way. Still others say that length of life is 
meaningless as compared with quality of life, which, due to increasing 
pollution and devastation brought on by technological overdevelopment, 
is now in sharp decline. The trend toward longer life may soon be reversed. 

"But conceding that technology, on the whole, aids longer life and that 
this is good, what other measurements exist? How else can we assess the 
impact of the technological path upon happiness, security, contentment, 
well-being, and a sense of faith in the future? These are very difficult to 
measure, but some statistics from U.S. agencies may tell us something, at 
least about the level of personal contentment in this country. Though the 
figures vary for other Western nations — crime statistics, for example, are 
far lower in many countries — I think it is relevant to offer these numbers, 
since the U.S. has been the mecca for technological expansion in this half- 
century, and we have been its primary missionaries and salespeople, at least 
until the recent emergence of the Japanese. 

• According to figures from the San Francisco-based independent non- 
profit National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the rate of criminal 
activity in the U.S. sharply increased in the period following World War 
II. By 1989, the national murder rate had reached more than 30,000 per 
year. If you are a young black man in America, you are more likely to 
die by homicide than in any other way. If you are a woman, you have 
one chance in five of being raped in your lifetime, and one chance in 
three that you suffered sexual molestation as a child. 

• 1990 figures published by another independent research group, The Sen- 
tencing Project, reported that the U.S. prison population has passed the 
1 million mark. That represents a higher per capita rate of incarceration 
than any country in the world. (South Africa is second; the Soviet Union 
is third.) If you add to these figures the number of people in the U.S. in 
juvenile detention or on parole, or in other controlled situations such as 
halfway houses, the total figure is nearly 1.5 million. 

• As has been widely reported, suicide and drug use in the U.S., especially 
among young people, are at epidemic levels and growing. (This is also 
true in most parts of the industrialized world.) In 1990, the National In 



stitute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that suicide was the third 
leading cause of death among young people, ages 15 to 24. 

• The U.S. Census Bureau's 1988 figures indicated that more than 13 per- 
cent of the U.S. population (about 32 million people) is officially classi- 
fied as living in poverty. The Bureau also said that 17.5 percent lived 
"below 125 percent of the poverty level"; that is, at nearly the poverty 
level. The Harvard-based Physician Task Force on Hunger in America 
has estimated, based on National Academy of Science standards, that 
more than 20 million Americans "are chronically undernourished." 

• The Census Bureau also reported that, as of 1989, 13 percent of the U.S. 
population (32 million people) had no health insurance. 

• The National Coalition of Homeless People estimates that in late 1990 
about 3 million Americans were homeless. 

• According to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, approx- 
imately 27 percent of all Americans are "functionally illiterate." 

• And the Public Citizen Health Research Group reports that about "25 
percent of American hospital beds are filled by mental patients." The 
National Institute of Mental Health's Office of Scientific Information 
reported, in March 1990, that "28 million American adults, over 18 years 
old, suffer some mental disorder during a given six-month period." 
About 16 million suffer "anxiety disorders " 10 million suffer "depressive 
disorders," and about 2 million are classified as schizophrenics. 

Whatever else can be said about these statistics, they are surely not in- 
dications of general contentment, or that human needs are being satisfied. 

Of course, some people are doing well. According to the U.S. Federal 
Reserve, the top 10 percent of American families — whose incomes ex- 
ceed $50,000 per year — own 78 percent of all private business, 86 per- 
cent of municipal bonds, 50 percent of real estate, and 72 percent of 
corporate stock. So much for the egalitarian aspects of rapid techno- 
logical expansion. 

I believe an objective observer — an anthropologist from Mars, per- 
haps — would conclude that our society is not functioning very well. Con- 
sidering the violence, self-destruction, drug abuse, insanity, unequal 
distribution of wealth, and failure to provide freedom from fear, an ob- 
server would surely label the whole situation a failure. Can we blame tech- 
nology for this? Only partly. But given that the promoters of technology 



claimed it would solve precisely these problems, it is worth noting how 
short of Utopia the machines have left us — and, as we will see, how many 
problems technology has actually caused. 

Perhaps more to the point are the considerations of environmental deg- 
radation (now a worldwide phenomenon) that are unarguably related to 
the growth of technology. Only within the last decade, just as technical 
expansion is reaching its zenith, has the world awakened to realize that 
toxic pollution is out of control, that the world's forest cover is being elim- 
inated, and that the habitats of the remaining species of plants and animals 
are disappearing. We have seen the emergence of new technology-related 
caused diseases and a rapid growth in the cancer rate. We have seen major 
disasters in places such as Bhopal, India; Love Canal and Times Beach; 
Valdez, Alaska, and the Persian Gulf; Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. 
And now we are witnessing the first clear planetary breakdown of the 
earth's life-support systems: air and water contamination, holes in the 
ozone layer, and global warming, all effects predicted by environmentalists 
for many years, but ignored in the technological frenzy. 

Considering all this, don't we have sufficient evidence to draw some 
humbling conclusions? Given that technology was supposed to make life 
better, and given its apparent failure in both the social and the environ- 
mental spheres, shouldn't reason dictate that we sharply question the wild 
claims we have accepted about technology? Lewis Mumford said that the 
"horn of plenty," i.e., the unlimited material goods that technological so- 
ciety promises, qualifies as a "magnificent bribe" meant to get us to over- 
look what has been lost in the bargain. Isn't it time for a society-wide 
debate on whether the costs — economic, social, health-related, and envi- 
ronmental — are justified, especially as the benefits (speed, leisure, length 
of life, commodities) are so marginal and perhaps superficial? 

No such debate is taking place, and no such conclusions have been 
drawn. Bizarre claims as to the alleged benefits of new technologies con- 
tinue to proliferate. We still hear that new generations of machines will 
solve the problems left by prior generations of machines. We still hear pre- 
dictions that a new era of health, comfort, security, leisure, and happiness 
is just around the corner if only we deepen our commitment to technology. 

The operating homilies remain the same: "You can't stop progress." 
"Once the genie is out of the bottle you cannot put it back." "Technology 
is here to stay, so we have to find ways to use it better." In reality, these are 
all rationalizations to cover up a culture-wide passivity; a failure to take a 
hard look at technology in all of its dimensions, or to draw the obvious 
conclusions from the evidence at hand. 





In The Whale and the Reactor, Langdon Winner calls our current con- 
dition "technological somnambulism." He goes on: 

The most interesting puzzle in our times is that we so willingly 
sleepwalk through the process for reconstituting the conditions of 
human existence. . . . Why is it that the philosophy of technology 
has never really gotten under way? Why has a culture so firmly based 
upon countless sophisticated instruments, techniques, and systems 
remained so steadfast in its reluctance to examine its own founda- 
tions? ... In the twentieth century it is usually taken for granted that 
the only reliable sources for improving the human condition stem 
from new machines, techniques and chemicals. Even the recurring 
environmental and social ills that have accompanied technological 
advancement have rarely dented this faith. . . . We are seldom in- 
clined to examine, discuss or judge pending innovations. ... In the 
technical realm we repeatedly enter into a series of social contracts, 
the terms of which are revealed only after the signing. 

Our passivity to the technological juggernaut has been ongoing for mil- 
lennia. Some find its roots in agriculture and husbandry. Others cite the 
emergence of patriarchy. And there is surely a case that the scientific rev- 
olution, which articulated a mechanistic view of nature and humanity, al- 
tered the prevailing views of life and encouraged fascination with and 
dependence upon the machine. Whatever the historical roots, we are now 
embedded in a system of perceptions that make us blind and passive when 
it comes to technology. I think the following factors are major contributors 
to the problem. 

Dominance of Best-Case Scenarios 

The most obvious problem is the manner in which technology is intro- 
duced to us. The first waves of description are invariably optimistic, even 
Utopian. This is because in capitalist societies all early descriptions of new 
technologies come from their inventors and the people who stand to gain 
from their acceptance. Whether in advertisements, public-relations pre- 
sentations, or at landmark events such as Worlds Fairs, the information 
we are given describes the technologies solely in terms of their best-case 
use. This is so even when the inventors have significant knowledge of ter- 



rible downside possibilities. It is logical that inventors and corporate and 
government marketers present only idealized, glamorized versions of 
technology, since they have no stake in the public being even dimly aware 
of negative potentials — the worst-case scenarios — though negative results 
are at least as likely to occur as positive results. Nuclear power is the single 
exception to this pattern. It has had a somewhat rougher road than other 
technologies because the public was aware of its worst-case potentials from 
the moment we first heard about it, at Hiroshima. If we had known the 
worst-case potentials of television, or automobiles, or computers, or pes- 
ticides, or robotics, or genetics, doubts might have emerged about those 
technologies as well, and thus slowed their progress. 

Technology's Pervasiveness and Invisibility 

Marshall McLuhan told us to think of all technology in environmental 
terms because of the way it envelops us and becomes difficult to perceive. 
From morning to night we walk through a world that is totally manufac- 
tured, a creation of human invention. We are surrounded by pavement, 
machinery, gigantic concrete structures. Automobiles, airplanes, com- 
puters, appliances, television, electric lights, artificial air have become the 
physical universe with which our senses interact. They are what we touch, 
observe, react to. They are themselves "information," in that they shape 
how we think and, in the absence of an alternate reality (i.e., nature), what 
we think about and know. 

As we relate to these objects of our own creation, we begin to merge 
with them and assume some of their characteristics. 

Workers on an assembly line, for example, must function at the speed 
of the line, submitting to its repetitive physical and mental demands. 
When we drive a car, we are forced to focus our minds and bodily reactions 
on being at one with the road and the machine: following the curves, mov- 
ing through the landscape at appropriate speeds. The more we spend our 
lives in this manner, the more these interactions define the perimeters of 
our experience and vision. They become the framework of our awareness. 

There is a paradox, however. Because technology is now everywhere ap- 
parent, pervasive, and obvious, we lose awareness of its presence. While 
we walk on pavement, or drive on a freeway, or sit in a shopping mall, we 
are unaware that we are enveloped by a technological and commercial 
reality, or that we are moving at technological speed. We live our lives in 
reconstructed, human-created environments; we are inside manufactured 

We do not easily grasp technology from the outside, or, in MoLuhan's 


terms, "extraenvironmentally." And once we accept life within a techni- 
cally mediated reality, we become less aware of anything that preceded it. 
We have a hard time imagining life before television or cars. We do not 
remember a United States of mainly forests and quiet. The information 
that nature offers to our minds and to our senses is nearly absent from our 
lives. If we do seek out nature, we find it fenced off in a "park," a kind of 
nature zoo. We need to make reservations and pay for entry, like at a 
movie. It's little wonder that we find incomprehensible any societies that 
choose to live within nature. 

With each new generation of technology, and with each stage of tech- 
nological expansion into pristine environments, human beings have fewer 
alternatives and become more deeply immersed within technological con- 
sciousness. We have a harder time seeing our way out. Living constantly 
inside an environment of our own invention, reacting solely to things we 
ourselves have created, we are essentially living inside our own minds. 
Where evolution was once an interactive process between human beings 
and a natural, unmediated world, evolution is now an interaction between 
human beings and our own artifacts. We are essentially coevolving with 
ourselves in a weird kind of intraspecies incest. At each stage of the cycle 
the changes come faster and are more profound. The web of interactions 
among the machines becomes more complex and more invisible, while the 
total effect is more powerful and pervasive. We become ever more enclosed 
and ever less aware of that fact. Our environment is so much a product of 
our invention that it becomes a single worldwide machine. We live inside 
it, and are a piece of it. 

Limitations of the Personal View 

Technological change proceeds on so many fronts simultaneously, with 
new technologies constantly interweaving to create new potentialities, that 
there is no single focus, no center at which we can direct simple, piercing 
questions to help us understand how it all works. The scale and complexity 
of these technologies (such as the worldwide system of satellites and com- 
puters that enables banks and development agencies to instantaneously 
reallocate financial resources anywhere on Earth) make it difficult for us 
to grasp the big picture in assessing any individual technology. Failing to 
see how machines connect, we are like the blind man seeking to describe 
the elephant by feeling its ankle. Unable to see the whole creature, we tend 
to define technology on a scale we can manage. We think of it in personal 
terms, based on our own interactions with it. 

We use machines in our lives and evaluate them in terms of their use- 



fulness to us personally. The machine vacuums our carpets. The car drives 
easily and well. The television entertains us. The microwave cooks dinner 
in a flash. The computer helps us do our work. We make little attempt to 
fathom the multiplicity of effects that computers or television or micro- 
wave ovens or cars may have on society or on nature. Nor do we think 
about how the technological march is affecting the planet. As a result, we 
are left with a view of technology's impact that is much too personal and 

It is perfectly natural to view machines this way. I too tend to think of 
my machinery in personal, visceral terms. I had a 1968 Volvo for fifteen 
years; it never had a serious breakdown. I wrote the television book on an 
old Underwood upright typewriter; it was a solid, perfectly performing 
machine. I now use an old IBM Selectric, also excellent. 

When I work with these machines or speak on the telephone or use the 
copying machine or drive my car, I do not stop and recite the social, 
political, cultural, or health-related consequences of my actions. I use the 
machines as anyone does. That's the way the world is right now, though I 
would prefer it were not. It would be nearly impossible to function if one 
were constantly questioning a machine's effect in society at large: how it 
changes power arrangements, who gains and who loses because of its ex- 
istence, how it affects the global environment. 

When we use a computer we don't ask if computer technology makes 
nuclear annihilation more or less possible, or if corporate power is in- 
creased or decreased thereby. While watching television, we don't think 
about the impact upon the tens of millions of people around the world 
who are absorbing the same images at the same time, nor about how TV 
homogenizes minds and cultures. When we drive our car we don't think 
about how pavement suppresses the life beneath it. If we have criticisms 
of technology they are usually confined to details of personal dissatisfac- 
tion. Rarely do we consider the overall political, social, spiritual, or eco- 
nomic effects upon our country or the world. 

There is an antidote for this problem: the creation of a truly holistic 
mode of analyzing technology, which would give greater importance to 
its multidimensional effects rather than its individual benefits. 

The Inherent Appeal of the Machine 

In Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television I discussed encounters 
between animals and certain technologies. The deer becomes fixated at 
oncoming headlights. The fish stares at the face mask ot the diver who 
spears it. I used these examples because I felt they suggested something ot 



our condition in Western society. We are hypnotized by the newness of the 
machine, dazzled by its flash and impressed with its promise. We do not 
have the instinct as yet to be fearful, or to doubt. 

Partly, this is a problem with our genetic inclination. For thousands 
of generations our survival depended upon our keen attunement to 
the events in our environment. We gave particular attention to unusual 
or new developments: changes in animal behavior, unusual footprints, 
extraordinary weather. Perhaps these presented new dangers, perhaps 

In the relatively few years in which we have accelerated our separation 
from nature, our genetic and sensory evolution has not been able to keep 
pace with the evolution of the machine. In our new, techno-oriented hab- 
itat, we have not yet noticed that the information of our senses is no longer 
invariably accurate. 

Three hundred years ago, if humans saw a flock of birds flying south- 
ward, they could count on the fact that the birds were actually doing that, 
and reliably draw conclusions. But since the introduction of moving- 
image media, the information of our senses (our eyes, in particular), which 
we have always believed is accurate ("seeing is believing"), may not be. The 
edited, re-created, re-enacted, sped-up, slowed-down, manufactured im- 
agery we see on television or in film is not in the same category of imagery 
as birds we see in the sky. Failing to make that distinction, we believe what 
we see in the media is as true and reliable as the unmediated information 
from nature, which offers great opportunities to advertisers, program di- 
rectors, and politicians. In giving such trust to media imagery, we are re- 
lying upon our genetic inclination to pay rapt attention to, and believe, 
whatever is new and unusual in our visual plain, just like the deer staring 
at the headlight. 

Similarly, as suggested in the previous section, we assume that by ob- 
serving a machine's performance personally we can understand its full im- 
plications. But the human species has not had sufficient experience, and 
absolutely no training, to enable us to understand from our own experi- 
ence the effects the machine might have over time, or on a wider scale. 

Compounding this problem is the fact that every technology presents 
itself in the best possible light. Each technology is invented for a purpose 
and it announces itself, as it were, in these terms. It arrives on the scene as 
a "friend," promising to solve a problem. This machine will move water 
from here to there. This one will bring down an animal at 400 yards. This 
will move a boat through water at high speed. This will kill insects that 
destroy our food. This one will light a city. All of these are attractive pos- 



sibilities. There is an inherent appeal in the very existence of machines that 
have such promise. 

What's more, the new machines actually do what they promise to do, 
which leaves us feeling pleased and impressed. It is not until much later, 
after a technology has been around for a while — bringing with it other 
compatible technologies, altering economic arrangements and family and 
community life, affecting culture, and having unpredictable impact on the 
land — that societies both familiar and unfamiliar with the machine begin 
to realize that a Faustian bargain has been made. But by then the situation 
is difficult to alter. What to do about this P How to counterbalance the ap- 
parent appeal of the machine? Practice skepticism! 

The Assumption That Technology Is Neutral 

No notion more completely confirms our technological somnambulism 
than the idea that technology contains no inherent political bias. From the 
political Right and Left, from the corporate world and the world of com- 
munity activism, one hears the same homily: "The problem is not with 
technology itself, but with how we use it, and who controls it." This idea 
would be merely preposterous if it were not so widely accepted, and so 
dangerous. In believing this, however, we allow technology to develop 
without analyzing its actual bias. And then we are surprised when certain 
technologies turn out to be useful or beneficial only for certain segments 
of society. 

A prime example is nuclear energy, which cannot possibly move society 
in a democratic direction, but will move society in an autocratic direction. 
Because it is so expensive and so dangerous, nuclear energy must be under 
the direct control of centralized financial, governmental, and military in- 
stitutions. A nuclear power plant is not something that a few neighbors 
can get together and build. Community control is anathema. Even control 
by city or state governments is proving impossible, as is now obvious to 
those locales attempting to block the movement and disposal of radioac- 
tive wastes within their borders. 

The existence of nuclear energy, and nuclear weaponry, in turn requires 
the existence of what Ralph Nader has called a new "priesthood" — a tech- 
nical and military elite capable of guarding nuclear waste products for the 
approximately 250,000 years that they remain dangerous. So if some future 
society, tiring of the present path, should determine to move away from a 
centralized technological society and toward, say, an agrarian society, it 
would be impossible. The technical elite would need to remain, if only to 



deal with the various wastes left behind. So it is fair to say that nuclear 
technology inherently steers society toward greater political and financial 
centralization, and greater militarization. 

Solar energy, on the other hand, is intrinsically biased toward demo- 
cratic use. It is buildable and operable by small groups, even by families. 
It does not require centralized control. It is most cost effective at a small 
scale of operation, a reason why big power companies oppose it. And solar 
energy requires no thousand-year commitment from society. 

So, where nuclear energy requires centralized control, solar energy 
functions best in a decentralized form. These attributes are inherent to the 
technologies and reflect the ideological bias of each. 

What is true for energy systems is equally true for other technologies. 
Each new technology invariably steers society in some social and political 
direction, by its very nature. Each new technology is compatible with cer- 
tain political outcomes, and most technology is invented by people who 
have some specific outcome in mind. 

As stated earlier, the idea that technology is neutral is itself not neutral, 
since it blinds us to the ultimate direction in which we are heading and 
directly serves the promoters of the centralized technological pathway. 

Combined with the best-case scenarios that dominate our information 
sources, and the way we are enveloped by technical reality, and the seduc- 
tiveness and flash of the machine, and our tendency to think about tech- 
nology only in personal terms, the idea of value-free technology confirms 
a formidable pro-technology mind-set. This, in turn, blinds us to the neg- 
ative evidence at hand that technotopia has already failed and will only 
create more problems in the future. 



/n the present climate of technological worship, arguing against 
technology is not popular. Utter the most minor criticism of technology 
and you run the risk of being labeled a "Luddite," an accusation meant to 
equate opposition to technology with mindlessness. The reference is to an 
important anti-technology movement in nineteenth-century England. 
Huge numbers of workers in cottage industries went on a rampage against 
the introduction of mass-production equipment, particularly within the 
textile trades. They invaded factories and destroyed machines. The move- 
ment was deemed a sufficient enough threat that the death penalty was 
established for the destruction of technology. 

Given that history, it's little wonder people are not eager to be called 
Luddites, but Langdon Winner has no such resistance. On a recent radio 
interview he said, "I am delighted to be called a Luddite. The position of 
the Luddites was in every way wise and perceptive. They opposed the im- 
position of a new economic order, which they predicted would destroy 
their livelihood and traditions, and lead the world in a destructive direc- 
tion. They were correct. Their resistance should be an inspiration." 

Then Santa Fe psychologist and author Chellis Glendinning threw 
down the gauntlet in a 1990 LJtne Reader article titled "Notes toward a 
Neo-Luddite Manifesto": 

Neo-Luddites are twentieth-century citi/xns who question the pre 
dominant modern worldview, which preaches that unbridled tech- 



nology represents progress. Neo- Luddites have the courage to gaze 
at the full catastrophe of our century. . . . Western societies are out 
of control and desecrating the fragile fabric of life on Earth. Like 
the early Luddites, we too are seeking to protect the livelihoods, 
communities, and families we love. . . . Stopping the destruction re- 
quires not just regulating or eliminating individual items like pes- 
ticides or military weapons. It requires new ways of thinking about 
humanity and new ways of relating to life. It requires a new 

The roots of contemporary resistance to the direction of technology 
first took hold in the 1960s with the birth of the ecology movement. (The 
concept of ecology was an old one that was suddenly revived to describe 
an emerging vision of the interrelatedness of all life.) During those times 
I was coordinating national advertising campaigns for the Sierra Club, and 
later for Friends of the Earth. Though we were not really aware of it, the 
campaigns we undertook were a departure from traditional environmen- 
talism, which had emphasized the protection of wilderness and wildlife, 
in that they began to focus on the dangers of specific technologies. 

Included among these was the organized opposition to the Supersonic 
Transport (SST), to nuclear energy, and a bit later, to nuclear weapons. 
There was also opposition to constructing dams on wild rivers, including 
the Colorado in the Grand Canyon. 

Rachel Carson's landmark book Silent Spring stimulated the fights 
against DDT and other pesticides. (By the early 1970s, the Vietnam ex- 
perience had raised awareness of the dangers of herbicides and fungi- 
cides.) The movement also fought the use of nitrogen-fixed fertilizers and 
fumigants for fruits and vegetables. It opposed certain mining technolo- 
gies (such as strip mining), certain fishing technologies (such as gill net- 
ting), and strongly promoted energy alternatives to fossil fuels and nuclear 

During this era we questioned many assumptions about the desirability 
of the automobile. We opposed freeway construction. Proposals were de- 
veloped, and some succeeded, to ban autos from certain areas of cities. 
Auto manufacturers were pressured to install smog-control systems and 
to build smaller, more fuel-efficient, longer-lasting cars. 

Movements arose opposing disposable beverage containers, food addi- 
tives, household sprays, non-biodegradable detergents, fluorescent lights, 
and fluoridated water. And as the first news of genetic engineering began 
to surface, pockets of resistance developed. 

It remained unstated and perhaps unnoticed that these ecology actions 



were also anti-technology in character, and more radical than at first per- 
ceived. In resisting further evolution of technology into new areas of the 
environment, the ecology movement was beginning to draw a line against 
an entire mode of economic organization. It was to our discredit that we 
ourselves did not fully grasp this. 

A small number of people, such as Leopold Kohr, E. F. Schumacher, 
and David Brower, were willing to seek principles by which to assess the 
whole direction of technology. "Smallness" rather than "bigness" was one 
such idea. The economics of continued technological growth, on a finite 
planet, came into question. And "appropriate technology" became the 
catch-term for new low-impact technology that operated on decentralized, 
small-scale principles: solar energy versus nuclear energy, diverse intensive 
farming versus agribusiness, steady-state economics versus economic 

But articulating these principles was slow, and meanwhile the jugger- 
naut was growing out of control. With most environmentalists shy about 
asserting that each struggle was part of a larger, grander issue, each battle 
was fought as if isolated from the others. So careful were we not to be 
thought too radical that we rarely exposed the real problem: a system of 
logic, and a set of assumptions, that led to the problems of dams, pesti- 
cides, nukes, growth, and the rest of it. Meanwhile, industry, the media, 
and the government were all repeating the mantra that technology serves 
progress and that progress equals more technology. And at each stage of 
technical development, we fell more deeply into the techno-maelstrom. 

"holistic" criticism 

I don't think I realized when I began working on Four Arguments for 
the Elimination of Television in 1973 that the project was really a stab at 
creating a new holistic language by which to discuss television and other 
technologies. It did not even occur to me at the beginning to advocate no 
television, but merely to broaden the terms used to discuss it, so that all 
possible dimensions of impact could be included: political, social, eco- 
nomic, biological, perceptual, informational, epistemological, spiritual; its 
efFects upon kids, upon nature, upon power, upon health. A totality of ef- 
fects, hence a "holistic" viewpoint. 

I did place particular emphasis on the negative potentials of televi- 
sion — the worst-case possibilities — since those were absent from most 



prior analyses. Whatever criticism of television existed at that time con- 
fined itself to the very narrow issues associated with the content of the 
programs, and ignored the effects of television's existence on society. 
McLuhan had already told us that "the medium is the message," but there 
was little evidence that people understood what that meant. 

McLuhan was saying that program content may not be the only prob- 
lem, or even the principal problem, with television. The mere existence of 
television, he said, causes society to be organized in new ways. As infor- 
mation is moved through different channels its character and its content 
change; political relationships, concepts, and styles change as well. Even 
the human spirit and human body change. Because of the way television 
signals are processed in the brain, thought patterns are altered and a 
unique, new relationship to information is developed: cerebral, out-of- 
context, passive. 

The point of my book was not to argue that there are no good programs 
on television. It was to point out that the consequences of television s ex- 
istence in our society are far more significant than its program content. 
Ergo, the medium is the message. An analysis of television that does not 
deal with the totality of these effects is not sufficient. 

To try and make this difficult point, I originally titled the book Sub- 
urbanization of the Mind, changing it later to Free way ization of the Mind. 
Both titles were attempts to suggest what was happening to the way that 
we think and understand information in the television age; our minds 
were being channeled and simplified to match the channeled and simpli- 
fied physical environment — suburbs, malls, freeways, high-rise build- 
ings — that also characterized that period (and continues to do so today). 
This effect would take place, I argued, even if the violence and sex shows 
and the superficial comedies and the game shows were all removed from 
the medium, because the process of moving edited images rapidly through 
a passive human brain was so different from active information gathering, 
whether from books or newspapers or walks in nature. As a result people 
would become more passive, less able to deal with nuance and complexity, 
less able to read or create. People would get "dumber," and have less un- 
derstanding of world events even within an exploding information envi- 
ronment. The book predicted that a new kind of leader would emerge 
from this process, one who fit the parameters of the medium, and who 
understood its language: simple, assertive, without history or context, with 
style superior to content. A few years later, Ronald Reagan became the 
personification of that prediction. 

After working on that book for several years, my concept of it evolved, 



and I considered naming it Cloning of the Already Born, in reference to the 
way television has homogenized culture throughout the world, a tendency 
not sufficiently noted by media pundits. Television was engaging all of 
humanity in similar thought patterns, similar experiences, similar im- 
agery, and a similar context of reality, which was poisonous to diversity of 
culture. Soon, we would all be more alike, that is, more like Americans 
living in Holiday Inns. 

But then when I'd finally finished the first draft, compiling hundreds 
of negative points about the medium, I felt television was an even more 
serious problem than I had first believed. I felt strongly that society would 
be better off without it. This realization did not particularly startle me. To 
believe that society would be better off without a certain technology didn't 
seem a very radical observation. Obviously some technologies are more 
harmful than they are beneficial, are they not? Yet many people were 
shocked, even angry, that I would advocate no television. Why were they 
so upset? What was the big deal? 

I looked into the literature about television to find the names of other 
writers who had also taken a stance against it. I was startled to learn that 
nearly 10,000 books had been written about television since 1945, but not 
one of them argued that our society would be better off without it. Why 
had nobody ever made such a case? 

Here was a technology that entered every home in the United States, 
brought imagery nightly into every brain for many long hours, reorgan- 
ized family life, community life, political life, human understanding and 
experience and, through their advertising and their domination of pro- 
gram content, gave corporations an unprecedented degree of centralized 
power and control. Yet no one had thought to argue that we might be bet- 
ter off without it. Why? Did everyone really believe that TV was great? 
Definitely not. But everyone was caught up in the narrow idea that the 
programs were television's only problem; the solution was simply to pro- 
duce better programs, to slip new ideas into the medium. 

There was yet a deeper resistance. Saying no to a technology, any tech- 
nology, was (and still is) beyond us. Virtually unthinkable. It does not even 
occur to most of us that we have the right or ability to turn back a whole 
technology. No precedent and no support exists for it in our culture. 

In a truly democratic society, any new technology would be subject to 
exhaustive debate. That a society must retain the option of declining a 
technology — if it deems it harmful — is basic. As it is now, our spectrum 
of choice is limited to mere acceptance. The real decisions about techno- 
logical introduction are made by only one segment of society: the corpo- 



rate, based strictly on considerations of profit. This is clearly antithetical 
to the democratic process. 

Finally, I decided to put the idea of eliminating television into the title 
ot the book. My hope was that the existence of such a title — and a plau- 
sible argument to support it — would make the unthinkable thinkable, and 
broaden the spectrum of possibilities. That the book has remained in wide 
circulation after more than a decade suggests that there are more people 
than one would expect who find such notions, if not acceptable, at least 

My only regret about the title is that it may encourage some people to 
believe it's possible to separate TV from the rest of the technological sys- 
tem, as if it were some kind of modular unit. Television cannot be re- 
moved while everything else remains. To put it into computer terms, the 
new technologies are "compatible" with each other, and combine to create 
the monolith of technological society. Television has a critical role to play, 
since it is the instrument that sends out the marching orders. It's the or- 
ganizing tool for those who control society, the way the head communi- 
cates with the body. It's a training instrument for new consciousness. To 
speak of eliminating television without mentioning the other pieces of the 
puzzle — computers, satellites, genetics, and corporations, among oth- 
ers — leaves the picture incomplete. Woven together, these technologies 
comprise something beyond what any of them are individually. It is this 
creature, the whole elephant, "megatech," that we must find a way of de- 
scribing, making visible, and criticizing. To do this we must understand 
each technology, in all of its dimensions, as well as how they all fit together. 


In 1980 the San Francisco-based Foundation for National Progress, 
which also publishes Mother Jones magazine, hosted a conference called 
"Technology: Over the Invisible Line." Its goal was to seek a system of 
standards by which to judge technologies before they envelop us and be- 
come exceedingly difficult to dislodge. The conference gave particular at- 
tention to the negative aspects of technology, since these were the least 
apparent, and also the most dangerous, precisely because they were rarely 
discussed. About 100 technology critics attended, and all struggled hard 
to define a few categories and basic questions, such as Which segments of 
society benefit from a new technology, and which segments do not? Who 
gains and who loses? Does a new technology concentrate power or equal- 



izc it? Does it serve democracy or not? How does a particular technology 
afreet the human conceptual framework: what we think, how we think, 
and what we do know and can know? How does it affect the way we view 
ourselves and our relationships to each other, to the planet, and to other 
living creatures? What about effects on human and planetary health? Fi- 
nally, all things considered, is it better or worse for the new technology to 
be introduced? And if we want it, at what scale of operation? 

We knew this was only the barest beginning of a list, and that not every 
question would apply to all technologies. But our goal was to develop a 
holistic means of evaluation, in order to view technology from both neg- 
ative and positive perspectives. We hoped this would help wrest control of 
the discussion from the corporations, who offer only best-case scenarios. 

Of all the ideas generated at that meeting, the one that has stayed with 
me most powerfully was spoken by David Brower, then chairman of 
Friends of the Earth. "All technologies," he said, "should be assumed 
guilty until proven innocent." I love that idea because it emphasizes ex- 
amining the hidden negative values of new technologies, in a society pre- 
disposed to see only the positive side of the story. It also assumes that a 
judgment could and should be made in time for a technology to be halted. 

retrospective technology 
assessment: cars and telephones 

I wonder: What if "guilty until proven innocent" had been society's 
rule when cars were invented? At the turn of the century the car was por- 
trayed as a harbinger of personal freedom and democracy: private trans- 
portation that was fast, clean (no mud or manure), and independent. But 
what if the public had also known about the negative properties of the 
car? What would have been the outcome? 

What if the public had been told that the car would bring with it the 
modern concrete city? Or that the car would contribute to cancer-causing 
air pollution, to noise, to solid waste problems, and to the rapid depletion 
of the world s resources? What if the public had been made aware that a 
nation of private car owners would require the virtual repaying of the en- 
tire landscape, at public cost, so that eventually automobile sounds would 
be heard even in wilderness areas? What if it had been realized that the 
private car would only be manufactured by a small number of giant cor- 
porations, leading to their acquiring tremendous economic and political 
power? That these corporations would create a new mode of mass pro- 



duction — the assembly line — which in turn would cause worker alien- 
ation, injury, drug abuse, and alcoholism? That these corporations might 
conspire to eliminate other means of popular transportation, including 
trains? That the automobile would facilitate suburban growth, and its im- 
pact on landscapes? What if there had been an appreciation of the psy- 
chological results of the privatization of travel and the modern experience 
of isolation? What if the public had been forewarned of the unprece- 
dented need for oil that the private car would create? What if the world 
had known that, because of cars, horrible wars would be fought over oil 

Would a public informed of these factors have decided to proceed with 
developing the private automobile? Would the public have thought it a 
good thing? If so, would there have been greater efforts to control the 
overbuilding of roads, or to protect alternative transit forms? How might 
the auto's impact on society have been modified as a result? 

I really cannot guess whether a public so well informed, and given a 
chance to vote, would have voted against cars. Perhaps not. But the public 
was not so informed. There was never any vote, nor any real debate. And 
now, only three generations later, we live in a world utterly made over to 
accommodate the demands and domination of one technology. 

• • • 

Having raised the question as to whether our society would have chosen 
the automobile if we had foreseen its consequences, a further question is 
raised: Can we know a technology's effects ahead of time? 

Many people argue that it's impossible to predict how a technology will 
ultimately affect society. To plead this is yet another excuse for passivity. 
For although the public is not informed in advance about the full impacts 
of technology, there are people who know a great deal about its probable 
outcomes: inventors and marketers, who go to great expense to ferret out 
every nuance of implication before their products go to market. 

Businesses do not like surprises. They are voracious in their appetite to 
understand their products' full spectrum of commercial possibilities; large 
numbers of highly paid people work full time to do just this. They also 
want to know about any dire consequences, though they are certainly se- 
lective about what they reveal to the public. 

A marvelous series of studies financed by the National Science Foun- 
dation and managed by MIT documents the extent of private knowledge 
of technology's consequences. The program, called "Retrospective Tech- 
nology Assessment," investigated what the people most involved in devel- 



opment predicted for various technical inventions. Sources for the studies 
were mostly private and corporate papers, but also included journals, pub- 
lic statements, and private correspondence. Among the technologies ana- 
lyzed were the transoceanic cable system, the Erie Canal, the airport, water 
sewage technology, and (my favorite) the telephone. 

Forecasting the Telephone, by Ithiel de Sola Pool, combines 300 predic- 
tions made about the telephone by business sources, scientists, and jour- 
nalists. Many of the predictions were made around the time when the 
phone was invented in the nineteenth century; some were made as recently 
as the 1930s, when the phone was first becoming a popular communica- 
tions instrument. 

The predictions are most definitely holistic, in that they divide into such 
categories as effects upon the economy, learning and culture, concepts of 
self and the universe, and patterns of human settlement. It's tragic how 
few of these predictions were presented to the public. 

To provide an idea of the breadth and depth of the early forecasts made 
about the telephone, I quote just a few examples: 

• The telephone will become pervasive. . . . used by all economic 

• Telephone service will become a public utility. 

• Telephone conversations will be recorded. [There were many ref- 
erences to business benefits of recording; there were also warnings 
about civil liberties implications.] 

• The telephone will aid industrial and corporate centralization, 
since management at a distance will become more possible. 

• The telephone will foster the growth of downtown areas. . . . cre- 
ate suburbs [and] advance the growth of skyscrapers. [The reason- 
ing was that, without the telephone, businesses would not occupy 
skyscrapers readily because it would require too many messages to 
be carried by hand, overcrowding the elevators.] 

• Telephone systems will require . . . directories. 

• The telephone will be particularly attractive and valuable to farm- 
ers . . . will abolish loneliness, particularly for the farmer's wife. 
[Another prediction was that it would keep young people on the 
farm, which turned out not to be true.| 

• The telephone will provide security despite isolation. [Note the 
possibilities for an advertising appeal. | 

4 6 


• Telephones will speed the conduct of finances. 

• The telephone will increase job mobility . . . will reduce the use of 
hiring halls . . . will be used for shopping . . . will speed the move- 
ment of perishable goods . . . will broaden market areas . . . will 
reduce the travel of salesmen . . . will be used for advertising and 

• The telephone system will foster national integration . . . [and] will 
reduce regional dialect differences. 

• The telephone will foster growth in the scale of government 
administration . . . will centralize the exercise of authority. 

• The telephone system will speed news reporting . . . will link net- 
work radio broadcasting [creating larger networks] . . . will allow 
feedback for radio talk shows. [Talk shows began in the 1920s.] 

• The telephone will be useful for [military] command and control 
. . . [and] encourage the centralization of command. 

• Telephone crime will be a problem. 

• Doctors will make diagnoses and give advice over the telephone. 

• Overhead wires will be an eyesore . . . the increase of the telephone 
system will threaten the depletion of trees . . . and the depletion of 

• The availability of the telephone reduces the need for travel. 
[AT&T is running ads saying, "Paris, for only $1.29" by phone.] 

• The use of women operators in manual exchanges will signifi- 
cantly increase economic opportunity for women. 

• Young people will use the telephone more than their elders. 

• The quality of letter writing will decline. 

• The telephone ring will have an insistent demanding quality. 

• The telephone will lower the emphasis on writing skills in schools. 

• The telephone will change people's sense of distance. 

• The telephone will foster impersonality. 

The question raised again is this: What would the public have thought 
if there had been a systematic disclosure of all these predictions prior to 
the introduction of the telephone? It surely would have been useful to an- 
ticipate that telephones might stimulate the centralization of cities, the 
military, and corporate power. Or that they would stimulate the construe- 



tion of skyscrapers. Each of these predictions, and others, represented po- 
tential major changes in the way our society operates: who is in charge, 
how power is distributed and accessed, how we live and work. 

I don't know how a fully informed public might have voted in a ref- 
erendum about the telephone. Perhaps the bias toward technological in- 
ventions created by previous decades of training would have resulted in a 
"yes" vote. Perhaps not. Perhaps there would have been demand to modify 
or control the telephone in some way. The point is that all of these pre- 
dictions, and the hundreds more I have no room to list, remained privately 
held. There was scarcely any public discussion of these points, nor has 
there been since. But that the ingredients were present to fuel the debate, 
and that the possible implications for society were privately known, cannot 
be doubted. The same is true for every new technology. 


In his book Technology and Social Shocf{, Edward W. Lawless collects 
ioo cases from the 1950s to the 1970s in which a new technology produced 
an environmental, genetic, or public health disaster. All were instances in 
which the most detrimental possibilities of a technology, previously un- 
publicized or unknown, became tragically apparent. Among his list Law- 
less cites thalidomide, which causes birth defects; hexachlorophene, the 
"wonder soap," which causes cancer; phosphate detergents, which kill 
fish; asbestos, which causes lung disease; polychlorinated biphenyls, which 
cause major health problems; herbicides, which cause malformations in 
newborn children; strontium 90 in mother's milk, which endangers ba- 
bies; acid rain; x-radiation; oil spills; nuclear plant leaks. 

Lawless reports these, then expresses his concern that American society 
is developing signs of ambivalence toward technological invention. He 
blames both government and the media for this. The agencies react only 
"after the Titanic has gone down," says Lawless, but he holds great hope 
that someday the federal Office of Technology Assessment will be given 
sufficient powers to intervene before disaster occurs, thereby assuring the 
public that technology can be controlled. As it is now, Lawless indicates, 
the technology assessment process is woefully inadequate: underfunded, 
reactive, and confining its analysis to technical problems, which sidesteps 
other dimensions of impact. 

Lawless also criticizes the media for being reactive and for failing to 
provide the public with adequate information prior to the introduction oi 

4 8 


a new technology. Like government agencies, Lawless says, the media tend 
to get involved only when a disaster is imminent or in progress. In addi- 
tion, he says, the media tends "to overdo the bizarre or the scare aspects at 
the beginning of a case and seldom follows through to summarize ade- 
quately the resolution of an issue." 

According to Lawless, if there had been adequate assessment in ad- 
vance of each new technology, and adequate media reporting, fully 60 per- 
cent of the 100 disasters cited in his book would have been averted or 

Perhaps so. But while blaming government and the media, Lawless 
does not mention the corporations that have the most knowledge of tech- 
nology s impacts, and often act to suppress the information that will reveal 
negative possibilities. Such has been the case with the Dalkon Shield, Depo 
Provera, asbestos, PCBs, meat wrappings, pesticides and herbicides, nu- 
clear energy, and hundreds of others, including many that Lawless him- 
self discusses. 

Author Chellis Glendinning adds many more items of technological 
disaster to Lawless's list. In her book When Technology Wounds, Glendin- 
ning interviews some fifty survivors of technology-induced health prob- 
lems: soldiers ordered to witness above-ground nuclear blasts in the South 
Pacific and Nevada; women whose doctors gave them DES; anesthesiol- 
ogists exposed to toxic chemicals; homeowners with contaminated water 
supplies; residents who live near toxic waste dumps; Vietnam vets exposed 
to Agent Orange; people caught in the flow of agricultural pesticides; and 

Glendinning was interested in the mental and emotional effects of tech- 
nology: a sense of helplessness, loss of social validation from those who do 
not question technology, and a loss of faith in social institutions, the gov- 
ernment, and modern medicine. But she was surprised to find how many 
people are politicized by their experience. Rather than remaining victims, 
they become fully active, forming a new force against the excesses of tech- 
nology and the blinders that have been placed on all of us. "At a time when 
the life-support systems of our biosphere are being wantonly destroyed by 
modern technologies," she says, "we find a precious and unexpected re- 
source in the very people who have been technology's early victims. And 
their numbers are growing. 

"When you add up the victims of birth-control systems, radiation, as- 
bestos, smog, pesticides, toxics, and a thousand other technologies," Glen- 
dinning told me, "the numbers you get are in the millions. It reveals the 
scale of the deal that has been made by our society — without asking us — 



trading oft our health for the economic health of corporations." Glendin- 
ning proposes creating a new international organization, a kind of union 
of technology victims, or as she would rather think of it, "technology sur- 
vivors, who will begin to look at technology for the scale of its impact and 
who organize to deal with the profound questions about technology's 


Now we are about to move into a new technological age, the brave new 
world of space colonies, laser weapons and communications, genetic en- 
gineering, robotics, and so on. We are already hearing familiar-sounding 
claims that this new generation of technologies will finally deliver that 
brighter, more glorious future. Part II of this book will present detailed 
analyses of some of these new technologies as well as some of the ones that 
are already upon us. Meanwhile, I offer here a little list of reminders that 
I keep pinned above my own desk. They help me maintain appropriate 
attitudes to protect against the one-sided information onslaught. Perhaps 
they'll be useful to you. 

1. Since most of what we are told about new technology comes from its 
proponents, be deeply skeptical of all claims. 

2. Assume all technology "guilty until proven innocent." 

3. Eschew the idea that technology is neutral or "value free." Every tech- 
nology has inherent and identifiable social, political, and environmen- 
tal consequences. 

4. The fact that technology has a natural flash and appeal is meaningless. 
Negative attributes are slow to emerge. 

5. Never judge a technology by the way it benefits you personally. Seek 
a holistic view of its impacts. The operative question is not whether it 
benefits you, but who benefits most? And to what end? 

6. Keep in mind that an individual technology is only one piece of a 
larger web of technologies, "megatechnology." The operative question 
here is how the individual technology fits the larger one. 

7. Make distinctions between technologies that primarily serve the in- 
dividual or the small community (e.g., solar energy) and those that op- 



erate on a scale outside of community control (e.g., nuclear energy). 
The latter kind is the major problem of the day. 

8. When it is argued that the benefits of the technological lifeway are 
worthwhile despite harmful outcomes, recall that Lewis Mumford re- 
ferred to these alleged benefits as "bribery." Cite the figures about 
crime, suicide, alienation, drug abuse, as well as environmental and 
cultural degradation. 

9. Do not accept the homily that "once the genie is out of the bottle you 
cannot put it back," or that rejecting a technology is impossible. Such 
attitudes induce passivity and confirm victimization. 

10. In thinking about technology within the present climate of techno- 
logical worship, emphasize the negative. This brings balance. Nega- 
tivity is positive. 



Our assumption of technology's beneficence, combined with our pas- 
sivity to its advance, has permitted certain technological forms to expand 
their scale of impact, and to interlock and merge with one another. Together, 
they are forming something new, almost as if they were living cells; they are 
becoming a single technical -economic web encircling the planet, megatech- 
nology. Among the key components of this invisible apparatus are computers, 
television, satellites, corporations and ban\s t space technology, genetics, and the 
alarming new "postbiological" machinery: nanotechnology and robotics. Ho- 
listic critiques reveal the role of each in the big picture, as well as the inevitable 
direction of the whole process. 



TT/ithout computers, the megatechnological age simply would 
V V not happen. Computers are basic to every new technical innovation, 
whether in communications, the military, genetics, transportation, auto- 
mation, or multinational corporate activity. 

Because of this universality of applications and implications, computers 
have been celebrated more than any technology since electricity. Educa- 
tors, corporate leaders, presidential candidates, futurists, and the media 
sing a unified chorus of praise. 

The situation is ludicrous. Computer technology has sprung us head- 
long into an entirely new existence, one that will permanently affect our 
lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren. It will speed up pro- 
found changes on the planet, yet there is no meaningful debate about it, 
no ferment, no critical analysis of the consequences. As usual, the major 
beneficiaries are permitted to define the parameters of our understanding. 

• • • 

During 1988 alone, the microcomputer industry spent more than one bil- 
lion dollars in advertising (most of it on television). You have only to watch 
your TV tonight to be repeatedly told that neither you, your business, nor 
your child can survive the future without computers. These messages from 
the microcomputer industry are in addition to those from other industries 
in praise of computers. Auto commercials promote their computerized 
features. Military recruitment ads trumpet the high-technology training 



the military offers: "High technology is taking over the world/Keep up 
with it or be left behind/Be all you can be/Join the Army." And if anyone 
failed to get the high-tech message from the ads, TV news images of the 
Iraq-U.S. war left no doubt about the glamor of computerized weaponry. 

Watches, telephones, stereo equipment, and instruments of all kinds 
boast of their digital operation. I know one chief executive of a wilderness 
travel company who advertises the company's "data bank" of wilderness 

Even environmentalists have failed to maintain the usual skepticism 
about corporate claims, accepting the apparent short-run benefits of com- 
puters without grasping that computers actually steer society in a direction 
that contradicts environmental goals. 

And writers! I must have been asked two dozen times how I can say 
that computers are negative when they are so useful to writers. They save 
time and drudgery, they rearrange, they spell, they sort information, and 
you can play some fun video games with them, too. But are any of those 
features really the point? 

Unfortunately, the major question about computers is not whether they 
serve you or your organization or your business well. I wish it were so sim- 
ple to just take this personal view. We must look at the totality of how 
computers affect society, and life on Earth. We need to dredge each di- 
mension of their impact and put it all together into one picture before we 
can judge their existence as beneficial or harmful. 

This chapter, therefore, is an attempt at a holistic analysis of computers, 
divided into seven categories: i) pollution and health, 2) employment, 
3) quantification and conceptual change, 4) surveillance, 5) the rate of ac- 
celeration, 6) centralization, and 7) the worst-case scenario: automatic 
computer warfare. 


Since its birth, the microelectronics industry has enjoyed a reputation 
as something apart from, better than, and cleaner than the old smokestack 
industries. Maybe this reputation goes with the neat design of the com- 
puters themselves, or maybe it's that the primary product is information 
rather than turbines or ball bearings. Perhaps it's the kind of people drawn 
to high-tech management, who reflect a New Age, "can-do," cutting-edge 
self-confidence; who exude the idea that "we are the future." Or maybe as 
my friend Ellen Weis of the Museum of Modern Mythology believes, it s 



the silence of the computers that sustains this squeaky-clean image. 
"Everything seems to happen by magic," says Ellen. "No moving parts." 

Anyway, this reputation is not deserved. Computers are not the "free 
lunch" they were promised to be. Health and environmental problems are 
visible in the communities in which the machines are built, among the 
workers who build them, and among the people who use them on the job. 

• • • 

Computer manufacturing employs millions of gallons of acids and sol- 
vents that are eventually disposed of at toxic dumps. In communities 
where computers are manufactured, serious problems have arisen. In Sil- 
icon Valley, California, for example, high concentrations of trichloroethy- 
lene, (a solvent that the EPA has called carcinogenic) have seeped into the 
drinking water. At one point, computer manufacturers, while not admit- 
ting guilt, passed out truckloads of bottled water in the affected commu- 
nities. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified eighty similar 
chemical spill sites associated with computer manufacturing, and expects 
the problem to escalate. 

Suburban communities affected by toxic waste have been able to orga- 
nize to mitigate the problems. But workers who manufacture computers 
and who have suffered health problems have been less effective. This is 
because most computer factory workers are nonunion and many are non- 
English-speaking and undocumented. So they have a hard time telling 
their story to management and/or the press. Lately, however, workers have 
succeeded in publicizing high rates of miscarriages and reproductive dis- 
orders, as well as hair loss, chronic asthma, and other conditions appar- 
ently resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals and gasses involved in 

According to attorney Ted Smith of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, 
"Workers and the general population are being exposed to the most deadly 
chemicals that have ever been synthesized." And Dr. Joseph La Don, chief 
of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Uni- 
versity of California, San Francisco, has said, "The computer industry has 
an incidence of occupational illness more than three times that of the av- 
erage manufacturing industry." Many companies have responded to such 
statements by moving manufacturing abroad to Korea and Southeast Asia, 
where workers are less informed and can be paid less, too. 

Perhaps the most significant health problems associated with com- 
puters concern their use in the office or at home. If growing suspicions 
about the medical effects of personal computers are verified, tens of mil- 
lions of people could be affected, and the orderly march of computers into 



every nook of American commercial and personal life will be slowed 

There have been medical reports for many years about complaints such 
as fatigue, eye strain, migraines, cataracts, and, among pregnant women 
who use VDTs (video display terminals), miscarriages, birth defects, pre- 
mature births, and infant deaths. At first it was not believed that com- 
puters could have such effects. Recent research, however, has concentrated 
on computer-related radiation. VDTs generate a range of electromagnetic 
radiation, from X-ray, ultraviolet, and infrared, to low-frequency (LF), 
very-low-frequency (VLF), and extra-low-frequency (ELF) wavelengths. 

At one time it was believed that these low-frequency radiations were 
incapable of causing harm to human beings, but it has now been shown 
that people are far more sensitive to any radiation than previously believed, 
and that causal relationships are beginning to emerge. A large medical lit- 
erature has now developed in the field to which, unfortunately, I cannot 
give justice in these pages. (For a very thorough overview, however, I refer 
you to Paul Brodeur's brilliant three-part series, "The Annals of Radia- 
tion," in the June 1989 New Yorker or his book, Currents of Death) 

Meanwhile, I will say this: The idea that computers are cleaner than 
other industrial products is wrong, and dangerous. Just as this book goes 
to press, the city of San Francisco has become the first to acknowledge this 
fact by creating some minimal standards for safer use of VDTs in the 
workplace. Hopefully, others will follow with more comprehensive rules. 
But, such new standards notwithstanding, if I were a woman contem- 
plating having children, I would not work at a computer terminal. 


At the 1940 World's Fair, American industry promised that computers 
and automation would eliminate toil, and thus free us to pursue higher 
goals. In the 1980s industry said computers would open new careers and 
new kinds of industry and would ease the burden of office workers. In 
reality, these claims are just advertising pitches attuned to the popular con- 
cerns of the moment. What automation and computerization actually do 
achieve is the elimination of jobs, which liberates human beings to stand 
in unemployment lines. 

The Utopian vision of a work-free society, in which machines do most 
of the work while all the humans relax, could only be realized if the eco- 



nomic benefits of automation and computerization were somehow shared 
by the workers. It would take a revolution to make this happen. For in 
capitalist society, the benefits are disproportionately allotted to the people 
who own the machines. Computers allow them to get the same job done 
with fewer pesky humans demanding increased wages, job safety, and 
health insurance. As my friend Jack Edelson, who runs a small manufac- 
turing business in San Francisco, told me, "The worst thing about com- 
puters is that they are eliminating the middle class. Blue-collar workers are 
losing their jobs to robots; they can't afford to buy houses anymore. And 
we're soon going to be a country with more rich people and a lot more 
poor people. Big industry says automation is going to create jobs, but that's 
baloney. There are new jobs around, but they're at McDonald's at mini- 
mum wage." 

As for easing the burden for office workers, that is hardly an open-and- 
shut case. Computers have eased the burden for managers, because the 
technology facilitates a level of on-the-job surveillance that makes per- 
sonal observation virtually unnecessary. 

A friend of my son Kai works as a 41 1 -information operator for Pacific 
Bell. He told me about the experience: "The computer knows everything. 
It records the minute I punch in, it knows how long I take for each call, it 
knows how many calls I handle per hour, how long I take on my break, 
and exactly when I leave. I am supposed to average under eighteen seconds 
per call, and achieve a certain number of calls per day. Everything I do is 
reported to my supervisor on his computer, and if I've missed my numbers 
I get a written warning. I rarely see the guy. I am not allowed to be one 
minute late for work, ever, or to take longer than exactly fifteen minutes 
for coffee. It's intense. It's me and the computer all day. I'm telling you, at 
the end of the day I am wiped out. Working with computers is the coal 
mining of the nineties." 

Diana Roose, who is research director of the National Association of 
Working Women (9 to 5), told me: "Since the introduction of the com- 
puter into office work, job design for secretaries has changed in negative 
ways. The typing part gets easier, but workers hate many aspects of these 
machines. . . . For the first time, secretaries have to deal with production 
quotas. Performance on the job is evaluated much more in strictly objec- 
tive terms. It used to be that an office worker would also be evaluated for 
her personal, human contribution of energy and ideas. Now there is 
hardly any variety in office work. The jobs are dead-ended, and because 
the human connection is eliminated, jobs are less secure. Some people are 
calling office work the electronic assembly line." 




The July 1984 issue of New Age Journal featured a story by R. H. Ring 
called "The Computerized Forest," which lamented the conceptual 
changes among U.S. Forest Service workers who are now asked to do their 
jobs mainly via computers. The entire forest system, says Ring, has been 
divided into "management units" containing "habitat capacity" models 
and "maximum sustainable yield" computations, all of which reduce the 
needs of species, and the workers' understanding of them, to quantified 

Computers were introduced into forest management, like everywhere 
else, for the sake of "efficiency," the implication being that this would help 
preserve nature. In fact, the objective was to more efficiently account for 
forest resources — trees, animals, water, minerals — and to better develop 
them as part of commodity society. A former head of the Forest Service, 
John Crowell (who also formerly worked for Louisiana Pacific) said can- 
didly that he favored "thinking of the natural world in terms of 'com- 
modities' rather than 'amenities.' " So now the Flathead Forest in Montana 
has a planned "output" of 200 grizzly bears. And old-growth forest is 
called "accumulated capital." 

As Ring wrote, "The ecosystem is not so easily reduced to computerized 
bytes. The needs of most wildlife species, their interrelationships and de- 
pendencies on their forest habitats, are not completely understood." 

It ought to go without saying that certain elements of forests resist ob- 
jectification: the unnameable feelings and moods, the subtle relationships. 
At one time, according to Ring, forest managers learned these more subtle 
dimensions of forest life by direct experience — by physically being out in 
the woods — and they integrated what they learned into their planning. 
But as management goals changed from preservation to development, the 
tools changed as well, and with those tools changed the concepts and the 
job. Ring reports that now Forest Service workers themselves are chang- 
ing; the new breed does not come to the task with a basic loyalty to and 
personal involvement with the land. They are more concerned with pro- 
duction goals and budgets. 

Of course, computers cannot be blamed for this change in direction for 
forest management. But they have made possible a new information sys- 
tem and an accelerated pace of development, which accommodates the de- 
sires of the prime movers in our society. Meanwhile, with nuances, moods, 



and personal observations subtracted from the information model — the 
very elements by which humans and nature have traditionally communi- 
cated with one another — the end result is passionlessness: a net loss in in- 
timacy with, caring for, and love of nature. Workers who are not 
comfortable with this new mode of reckoning leave the Service, and are 
replaced with workers who don't mind the change. 

The government of Canada has been as aggressive as the United States 
in introducing quantified, computerized resource management. At a re- 
cent conference of Circumpolar Peoples (Inuit and Indians) of the far 
north, the Canadian government announced a new initiative for bringing 
computers and computer training to native resource managers. The inten- 
tion was ostensibly to be helpful, but the net result will be to destroy tra- 
ditional resource management systems, and, perhaps along with that, 
native resistance to large-scale exploitation. The assumption is that objec- 
tive data of the sort that computers emphasize will improve upon methods 
natives have employed for millennia. 

Computers are actually antithetical to information sources that tradi- 
tional societies have used: personal observation, sensory interaction, his- 
torical and geographic contexts, and teachings about the human-wildlife 
relationship that have been passed down from previous generations. These 
sources offer a broader spectrum than mere numerical data, and recent 
studies have shown them to be just as effective. The viability of native eco- 
nomic practices will be discussed at length in Chapter 14, but I want to 
suggest here what will be lost if computers take over the management of 
native peoples' resources. 

• • • 

Canadian anthropologist H. A. Feit, of McMaster University, Ontario, 
speaking at the 1986 Symposium of the Alberta Society of Professional 
Biologists, described the resource management methods of the Waswanipi 
Cree of northern Ontario. Their methods, used for thousands of years as 
they are today, are based on a philosophical premise of reciprocity among 
humans and animals. But they also lead to highly efficient management 
and accounting: 

In the culturally constructed world of the Waswanipi, the animals, 
the winds and many other phenomena are thought of as being "like 
persons," in that they act intelligently and have wills and idiosyncra- 
cies, and understand and are understood by people. Causality in the 
Waswanipi world is not mechanical or biological, it is personal. . . . 



Waswanipi hunters say that they only catch an animal when the an- 
imal is given to them. They say that in winter it is the spirits, espe- 
cially the north wind, and the animals* spirits themselves which give 
animals to the hunters and their families so that they will have what 
they need to live and survive. . . . The body of the animal a hunter 
receives nourishes him, but the soul returns to be reborn again, so 
that when men and animals are in balance, the animals are killed but 
not diminished, and both men and animals survive. ... In return 
for the gifts, the hunter has obligations to the animals and the spirits 
to act responsibly, to use what is given completely, and to act respect- 
fully towards the bodies and souls of the animals. ... It is expected 
that men will kill animals swiftly, and avoid causing them undue 
suffering . . . not to kill more than he is given, not to kill animals for 
fun or self-aggrandizement. 

Apparently, for thousands of years, the Waswanipi have divided their 
territory into hunting regions, ranging in size from 250 to 1,500 square 
kilometers. For each territory, an elder is appointed as steward, based on 
his personal "ties to spirits and the land, within a system of communal 
rights," says Feit. "The stewards, by repeatedly returning to the same 
tracts of land, have the opportunity to observe and assess the condition of 
the game populations . . . Stewards generally have the right and obligation 
to decide whether a hunting territory should be used for harvesting of big 
game and fur-bearers during any year, and they allocate [land] to hunters 
who do not have their own. They can thus decide how many hunters will 
use a territory, and they can indicate to those who do, how many of various 
kinds of game animals they may harvest. . . . their supervision is usually 

Feit reports that the stewards receive detailed reports from hunters re- 
turning from the fields on what has been caught and what has been seen: 

Mature hunters can usually state whether there are more beaver col- 
onies now than there were a year ago, or five years ago, or when the 
hunter's first child was born, possibly thirty years before. . . . They 
do not usually remember exact numbers but report relative quan- 
tities or trends. Hunters can often comment on whether the number 
of beavers per colony has been going up or down, on whether fe- 
males are having more or fewer young per year; on trends in the fre- 
quency of different age/size categories, on changes in "shyness" to 
traps, on changes in the rates of wolves and other predation, and on 
changes in forest composition, regeneration, and the availability of 
food for beaver. 



All of this is done without computers. The point is this: Given the de- 
tailed field-observation practices ot native peoples, of whom the Waswan- 
ipi Cree are only one example, computer-based systems would probably 
not produce numbers much different from present estimates. (In fact, Dr. 
Feit gave examples of comparative research that proved this point.) What 
computers would achieve is a direct assault on an age-old system of human 
and animal relationships that is at the very heart of native cultures and that 
underlies the basic philosophical, social, and economic systems of Indian 
societies. Eventually, the Inuit, Indian, and other native groups who are 
given computers will begin to conceptualize nature in the objective terms 
used by Western development interests ("sustainable yield,'* "animal 
units"), while the more powerful mythical, sensory, and spiritual outlook 
that has informed and sustained native cultures for millennia is sacrificed. 
In the end, this destroys Indian culture and leads to overdevelopment. 

• • • 

What do you think about the computer takeover in schools? Computer 
fever is sweeping through the educational establishment. Computer man- 
ufacturers are successfully convincing school systems that they cannot get 
along without them. Many companies are supplying free computers to 
classrooms, with the eventual goal that each of fifty million high school 
and college kids will own a personal computer. The long-run potential for 
the computer industry of having every kid computer trained is obvious. 

"Computer literacy" is already required in many colleges and high 
schools. Computers are replacing teachers and teaching functions. And 
they are changing the content of the information learned in schools, from 
the more subtle information that goes with the traditional teacher-student 
relationship, to the more hard-edged, data-based objective content that 
goes with the machine-user relationship. It has happened so quickly that 
there has been little systematic evaluation of what computers do that 
teachers don't, or vice versa. But it already has enabled school systems to 
get along with fewer teachers. 

Ironically, one of the highly praised aspects of computers in schools has 
been its "personal" quality. The computer gives the assignment, the stu- 
dent responds; when all goes well, the computer gives "user-friendly" 
praise and encouragement. The student feels rewarded. Computer advo- 
cates say teachers are often too busy to be that "personal." Computers are 
also infinitely patient, never tiring of working with slow learners. And 
when completing, say, repetitive drills in math or science, the machine can 
advance students to new levels and keep the process going, even when 
there may not be a teacher on the same floor of the building. 



The questions are these: What sort of person does this educational pro- 
cess produce? And what sort of knowledge is attained? Marian Kester, 
writing in the Toronto Globe, put it this way: "If children are separated 
from their parents by hours of TV, from their playmates by video games, 
and from their teachers by teaching machines, where are they supposed to 
learn to be human?" 

The next question is: Do computers make kids smarter? 

Seymour Papert of MIT has said that learning computer programming 
leads to "conceptually clear thinking," and that children who do so can 
better deal with complex problems elsewhere. But Joseph Menosky, writ- 
ing in Science magazine, disagrees. He reports that Roy Pea of the Bank 
Street College of Education tested kids who had learned LOGO, the com- 
puter language from MIT, to see if those kids organized their work better 
or more clearly. 

"According to Pea," said Menosky, "the children displayed 'production 
without comprehension.' In other words . . . children can seem to under- 
stand while only going through the motions. This is consistent with stud- 
ies of college computer science majors with thousands of hours of 
programming who yet fail to understand the priciples that underlie even 
the brief programs. These studies raise serious doubts about the sweeping 
claims made for the cognitive benefits of learning to program," 

I worry that the increased use of computers in education will produce 
three results: 

First of all, as with the Inuit and the Forest Service workers, objective, 
linear knowledge will begin to dominate while other, more subtle forms 
will recede. Like the wilderness, which has disappeared from the land- 
scape and from our minds, many ways of thinking will also disappear. 

Second, as computers replace teachers, the certainty of computer pro- 
grams will replace the subtlety of student-teacher interaction. I am not 
saying that all teachers are better than computers for all subjects at all 
times. It's just that something goes on among humans that is definitely not 
present in human-machine relationships. 

Third, replacing teachers with computers will create an ominous uni- 
formity of knowledge. Corporations already provide a vast amount of 
"educational materials" to schools; when they also provide the computer 
programs that kids interact with, especially in the absence of a mitigating 
human presence, they pave the way to an officially sanctioned, unified field 
of knowledge. That field will be narrower than at present (though perhaps 
deeper in a few areas, such as science), and it will be consistent with cor- 
porate values. 




In terms of everyday life, the greatest danger of computers may be the 
level of surveillance they make possible. Computers have enabled the ma- 
jor institutions of our society — corporations, government agencies, the 
police, the military — to keep records well beyond what was previously 
possible. New Yor^ Times reporter David Burnham's splendid book The 
Rise of the Computer State covers this subject so thoroughly that I will de- 
vote only a few paragraphs here to summarizing it. 

Burnham offers the example of TRW Corporation, which holds in its 
computers the credit records of 120 million Americans. These reveal 
where you bank, how much money you have, what your income is, how 
much you owe, what you own, where you shop, how much you spend, who 
your dependents are, whether or not you have a criminal record, how well 
you pay bills, where you work and live, your telephone number, your social 
security number, and names of the rest of your family. 

The Medical Information Bureau has files on about 20 million people. 
Metromail, a direct-mail ad agency, has files on about 74 million Ameri- 
cans. AT&T has a comparable number. 

Burnham acknowledges that the quantity of contemporary record 
keeping could have been managed before the invention of computers, but 
as a practical matter, it would have been absurd to attempt it. The collec- 
tion process would have taken many times longer than it does now, and 
once collected, information retrieval would be extremely difficult, since it 
would involve an incredible amount of manual searching. "Computeri- 
zation has now greatly reduced the economic disincentive to [gather and] 
inspect the files," says Burnham. So now the data is gathered. 

The federal government is not to be outdone by the private sector. 
Every year government officials collect about four billion separate records 
about the people of the United States — an average of seventeen records 
per person. Most of these files are held by the FBI, CIA, and NSA, which 
share interlocking networks with local police and private security agen- 
cies. You and your organization are surely included. 

What's more, only one or two remaining laws restrict these police and 
government agency networks from interlocking their data with your so- 
cial security file, your phone number, your zip code, your IRS records, 
your employer, your bank accounts, your insurance, and all the private 
records that are now held by corporations. And soon, the interlock will be 
able to include your own dear home computer, the one that makes you 

6 4 


Thus tar, civil libertarians have held the line against meshing all these 
identification systems into one omniscient central computer file. But these 
are the years that people get elected president for trashing the ACLU. 


In recent years, there has been resistance to the idea that bigger is nec- 
essarily better. People like Leopold Kohr and E. F. Schumacher, as well as 
movements like the Greens and Bioregionalism, have argued that the 
sheer size and scale of the economies and technologies of modern coun- 
tries create insurmountable organizational problems, and lead to alien- 
ation among people, hostilities among countries, and destruction of the 
environment. But if small is beautiful, as the cry goes, what about slow? 
Few people have noted that speed is an important dimension of scale. 

Today's largest institutions — the military, corporations, governments, 
banks — can only be as large and as globally far-reaching as they are able 
to quickly communicate mind-boggling amounts of data among their di- 
verse branches. Computers, combined with satellite telecommunications, 
have shattered the now-obsolete physical limits of size. An institution can 
now spread itself outward to encompass the entire planet. National 
boundaries are anomalies. 

As computers have accelerated and geographically broadened the in- 
formation cycle within large institutions, human beings have had to move 
quickly to keep up. And as institutions and people have sped up economic 
activity — satellite mapping of resources, entry into previously untouched 
areas, instantaneous movements of funds, development of infrastruc- 
tures — the face of the planet has been changing more rapidly than ever 
before. Corporate activity accelerates, impact on the planet accelerates, 
and human activity does as well. Is this good? 

• • • 

In our society, speed is celebrated as if it were a virtue in itself. And yet as 
far as most human beings are concerned, the acceleration of the infor- 
mation cycle has only inundated us with an unprecedented amount of 
data, most of which is unusable in any practical sense. The true result has 
been an increase in human anxiety, as we try to keep up with the growing 
stream of information. Our nervous systems experience the acceleration 
more than our intellects do. Its as if we were all caught at a socially ap- 
proved video game, where the information on the screen comes faster and 
faster as we try earnestly to keep up. 



Video games are in fact a great example of this. They are often de- 
fended with such claims as "they speed up hand-eye coordination." Com- 
mercial video game parlors effectively claim this when defending against 
parents' groups that seek to ban them from a neighborhood. But why is it 
good to speed up hand -eye coordination? The only real benefit would be 
to improve one's basketball skills, or to prepare for the next sped-up video 
game. (Ronald Reagan praised video games as good training for the new 
generation of bomber pilots, like those who flew in Iraq, whose instru- 
ments resemble video games.) 

For 400,000 generations human hand-eye coordination was attuned to 
an environment operating at what you might call natural speed. Every- 
thing that human beings had to deal with moved at speeds appropriate to 
our abilities. It had to be that way in order for our species to survive; spe- 
cies need to keep up with the tasks at hand. 

With the Industrial Revolution, many things began moving at mechan- 
ical speeds. As the natural environment was paved over, and as human life 
moved into human-made environments, the natural rhythms of our re- 
actions gave way to industrial rhythms. We learned to interact with me- 
chanical speeds, as assembly-line workers and most auto drivers know. 
Now that machines move at electronic speeds, the wheel of activity turns 
even faster, with us on it. 

Computer video games are good training for the faster world. When 
we play a video game, our goal is to merge with the computer program. 
The electronic symbols on the screen enter our brain, pass through our 
nervous system, and stimulate the fight-or-flight reaction that still lives 
within us and that expresses itself here through our hands. Very little 
thinking is needed or used. The object is to respond without thought, 

A skillful video-game player stimulates the computer program to go 
faster, and as the cycle (computer program to nervous system to hands to 
machine to computer program) speeds up, the player and the machine be- 
come connected in one fluid cycle; aspects of each other. Over time, and 
with practice, the abilities of the human being develop to approximate the 
computer program. Evolution is furthered by this sort of interaction, but 
this is a notably new form of evolutionary process. Where evolution once 
described an interaction between humans and nature, evolution now takes 
place between humans and human artifacts. We coevolve with the envi- 
ronment we have created; we coevolve with our machines, with ourselves. 
It's a kind of in-breeding that confirms that nature is irrelevant to us. 

Video games and computers accelerate a process that had already been 
stimulated by a generation of television viewing. Most people think of TV 



viewing as passive — which it is — while video games and computers are 
interactive. But the hyperactivity of TV imagery, while pacifying the 
brain, simultaneously speeds up the nervous system. TV makes us both 
dumb and speedy. In the end, television viewing just prepares us for the 
appropriate mental state for video games and computer fixation. And to- 
gether, the technologies combine to produce a generation of people too 
sped up to attune themselves to slower, natural, primordial rhythms. 

Video games. Television. Computers. Walkmans. Kids carrying those 
big radios down the street. And the street. And the assembly line. And the 
freeway. They are all part of an acceleration process that spins our lives 
faster and faster, making it seem more exciting when actually it is only 

• • • 

The prevailing paradigm that speed is inherently good benefits some ele- 
ments of society more than it does others. Those who benefit most are the 
largest institutions, which can translate speed of transactions and travel 
directly into money and power. For most of the rest of the world, the em- 
phasis on acceleration is harmful. It is surely harmful for workers. It is 
harmful for relationships among people. It creates anxiety. And it has very 
important ramifications for the survival of diverse non-Western cultures. 

Indigenous peoples tend to operate in small-scale economic commu- 
nities, by collective processes, with all decisions made by consensus. This 
presupposes a high degree of intimacy among the people of the commu- 
nity. Since time is one of several luxuries that indigenous peoples enjoy 
more readily than we do, communications are often characterized by de- 
liberate slowness; people are not in a hurry. They don't believe in accom- 
plishing more in less time, because there is sufficient time to accomplish 
what needs to be done. They revel in the personal engagement that not 
rushing allows. When things do have to get done, they get done by the 
group acting in concert. 

In the past as in the present, the push of Western invading cultures has 
been to organize life along entirely different lines — clock time, schedules, 
goals — in order to increase surplus production. This, in itself, threatens 
the survival of non-Western cultures since it changes the people and their 
traditional institutions. 

I thought of all this while reading an article in the October 1984 isssue 
of Development Forum, titled "Worshipping a False God," by Ken Darrow 
and Michael Saxenian. The authors have devoted much of their lives to 
bringing small-scale technology to villages in some of the world's poorest 
countries. The article reports on the computer craze — the same craze that 



has overtaken American school systems — that has taken hold among in- 
ternational development agencies and staffers who advocate computer- 
satellite linkups for rural communities where technical information is 
scarce. According to Saxenian and Darrow, the assumption goes that com- 
puters will offer "unprecedented low-cost instantaneous communications*' 
for village development, thus solving their "technical information needs." 
The authors conclude that this assumption is "dangerous nonsense," and 
make the following points: 

• "In a poor country, using a microcomputer linked by satellite to an in- 
formation system half-way round the world ... is absurd." It is tech- 
nological overkill. Most poor countries need much simpler technologies, 
such as typewriters, reference books, hand tools, bikes, tape recorders. 

• Finding skilled repairers of computers is nearly impossible, forcing 
"many local groups to purchase complete back-up computers, which can 
be cannibalized for parts." 

• "The telephone system already offers instantaneous low-cost commu- 
nication. . . . The unique advantages of computerized networks are few 
and expensive. Do you really want to call your mother on a computer?" 


I recently attended a National Bioregional Congress; 250 people work- 
ing toward the disintegration of central political power in favor of local 
control, economic self-sufficiency, and small-scale nature-based princi- 
ples — Green principles. Several participants publicly advocated a role for 
computers in building networks among the bioregions, thereby facilitat- 
ing rapid exchanges of information. Although it was acknowledged this 
might create some centralization, it was also argued that computers are a 
"neutral tool" that could help groups whose goals are anathema to the 
large institutions that invented them and that dominate their application. 
This is a hot idea: we take their invention and use a kind of jiujitsu to turn 
it against its creators. Tempting, but it fails to reckon with the intrinsic 
aspects of computers that will inevitably result in centralization. 

The issue is confused at the outset by the fact that computers have the 
look of a small-scale democratic technology. People have them at home 
and find them empowering for themselves and their organizations. They 
are helpful in many ways and offer considerable personal control, unlike 
non-yielding technologies like television. Small social and political groups 
find computers valuable for information storage, networking, processing 



mailing lists, preparing clean copy, maintaining membership lists, keeping 
accounts, and so on. Yet all this begs the question. The real issue is not 
whether computers can benefit you or your group; the question is who 
benefits most from the existence of computers in society? The answer sug- 
gests that, for all of their small-scale benefits, the largest institutions have 
far more to gain, and they know it. 

The computer invasion was not engineered by a group of high-minded 
technological do-gooders determined to further democracy. Though 
computers were invented in the 1920s, it was the American and British 
military that first put them to serious use, as guidance systems for missiles 
during World War II. Two decades later, IBM converted the technology 
to big-business uses. It wasn't until the 1970s that Atari and Apple 
launched the campaigns to put a computer in every home and schoolroom. 
Do-gooders didn't hit a plastic key until the mid-1970s, when the military 
and the large corporations had already integrated them deeply into their 
operations, with great benefit and greater geographical reach for central- 
ized operations. 

Computer technology is an intrinsic part of an advanced technical in- 
frastructure; computers could only have emerged from a society already 
very far down a technical pathway. They are very costly to manufacture, 
they are intricately connected to centralized telephone systems, and some 
of their optimum uses, such as high-speed computation and satellite map- 
ping of resources, are so costly that they are only available to the largest 

Computers serve the economies of scale in the same way as other re- 
cently developed technologies, such as satellite communications, mechan- 
ical agriculture, robotics, pesticides. The larger an enterprise, the more 
computers it can afford. What's more, the computers will be more sophis- 
ticated, operated by better-trained staff, and have more interfacings 
among widely dispersed regions than in smaller institutions. As a result, 
larger businesses gain a comparative advantage. Though small businesses 
benefit from using computers, larger institutions benefit far more, since 
the scale and complexity and reach of operations that computers facilitate 
require much greater financial resources. Smaller businesses would ac- 
tually be better off if computers had not been invented, since they are es- 
sentially one more tool that large businesses can use better. 

Consider the role of computers for international banks and conglom- 
erates. Moving money instantaneously from one market to another, feed- 
ing development here and then there, the multinational institutions of 
today could simply not operate as they do without computers in a satellite 
linkup. Computers have enabled these institutions to suddenly expand 



into a dimension never before possible. They are beyond multinational 
now; they are truly global. The accelerated pace at which forests are felled 
in Indonesia and Borneo, oceans are mined in the Pacific, and dams are 
built throughout the world, reflects the increased ability of corporations 
to operate from a central management and still influence daily activities 
in all corners of the planet. 

It is profoundly naive for people who work to prevent planetary dev- 
astation to speak of the computer as if it were neutral; as if it were as useful 
for decentralization as it is to centralized development interests. Large in- 
stitutions that seek the latter benefit far more than the do-gooders who 
plan to use computers for a high-tech jiujitsu. It is only misunderstanding 
the big picture, and a certain conceit, that allows us to think any other way. 
Environmentalists, bioregionalists, and other progressive activists would 
be better off realizing that for all the little benefits they offer us, computers 
set our movements back. We ought to begin dealing with them as an ur- 
gent environmental and political issue in themselves. 

7. worst-case scenario: 
automatic computer warfare 

It was possible to annihilate the world before the invention of com- 
puters, but it was far more difficult and much less likely. The invention of 
the computer instantly changed the speed at which war could be waged, 
the scale of its impact, and the quantity of destruction. 

Computer technology has already produced an unprecedented degree 
of military centralization. Generals sitting in an underground war room 
somewhere outside Washington can, in one moment, observe the position 
and readiness of all U.S. military hardware, and a high percentage of So- 
viet hardware, around the globe. Soviet generals outside Moscow can do 

From military central it is also possible to fire missiles and track their 
progress via computerized displays not unlike those depicted in films like 
War Games. In fact, managing warfare now resembles playing a giant 
video game — following electronic blips on a massive screen — abstract, ce- 
rebral, removed from direct involvement. One could argue that this man- 
ner of waging war makes war more likely, since it separates humans from 
the consequences of their actions, unlike ground action, where you put 
bayonets through people's bodies and watched them bleed. 

When enemy forces are reduced to blips on a video screen, impossible 
to verify by direct observation, there is u far greater chance of error. In one 


eighteen-month period ending June 30, 1980, U.S. strategic forces expe- 
rienced 151 "false alarms," five of which were significant enough to put 
our forces on "alert" status. In several of these cases, the "alert" was in re- 
sponse to flights of birds. In one case, it was the rising moon. 

This problem of computer error in a military context is one of the main 
concerns of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), a 
group of Silicon Valley corporate executives, programmers, and engineers 
who are concerned about the military potentials of computers. 

According to CPSR, "In all but the simplest computer programs, hid- 
den design flaws can persist, sometimes for years, even though the system 
appears to work perfectly. . . . There exist no known methods for elimi- 
nating this uncertainty in complex computer programs. . . . No amount 
of testing under simulated conditions can replace the testing that comes 
from embedding the system in the actual environment for which it was 
designed [in this case, nuclear war]. . . . But all experience with complex 
computer systems indicates that it is the circumstances that we totally fail 
to anticipate that cause the serious problems." 

CPSR argues that computer error can only be mitigated by human in- 
tervention. What makes the current military-computer collaboration so 
terrifying is that the computers have reduced the time available for 
decision-making to the point where it is now virtually automatic; humans 
are nearly out of the loop. 

It will be informative to compare the situation in the 1940s with that of 
today. Even after the invention of atomic bombs, worldwide destruction 
was unlikely because of the amount of time and the degree of human par- 
ticipation that remained intrinsic to the process. Back then, bombers had 
to be physically loaded and then flown enormous distances at relatively 
slow speeds to their targets. The process took many hours, which allowed 
considerable time for circumstances to be altered. In addition, each bomb 
was carried by a group of human beings, rather than being fired auto- 
matically by a central button. Even if one bomb dropped, there might still 
be time to call things off before all the bombs dropped; the whole system 
did not hang on an irretrievable automatic "Go." 

The invention of computers, which in turn made advanced rocketry 
possible, drastically shortened the time between the decision to act — to 
"push the button" — and the final outcome. Today, warheads do not fly in 
creaky bombers, but on computer-guided missiles, targeted and shot into 
space at astounding speed from military-computer-central. And now 



there's the incentive to fire all missiles at once, since an enemy can react 
so quickly. If war starts, total destruction is not only possible but likely. 

U.S. and Soviet missiles are presently six minutes from each other's bor- 
der. If U.S. computers suggest that an enemy attack is underway, six min- 
utes are available to verify the accuracy of the data, locate and inform the 
president, and then, in the time remaining, for the president to make a 
decision. In reality, there would be no time to carefully consider options; 
the decision would be preplanned. In modern computerized warfare, hu- 
man involvement becomes so proscribed at the most critical moments as 
to be effectively meaningless. 

In recognizing the difficulty of human decision-making in modern 
warfare, we hear talk of "launch on warning" (launching missiles instantly 
at the first computer warning) as a viable policy. The technical capacity is 
already in place for people to be dropped out of the decision loop, leaving 
us with automatic warfare: our comptuer program versus theirs. So what 
is called nuclear war is not that at all; it is really microelectronic war, soft- 
ware war. And the arms race has become a battle of computer program- 
mers seeking to gain an edge in a war that, when fought, will happen 
automatically with no people involved — until the hardware starts landing 
on them. 

• • • 

On October 28, 1983, the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, a 
division of the U.S. Department of Defense, issued a document called the 
"Strategic Computing Plan." The SCP was a five-year, $600,000,000 pro- 
gram to develop a new generation of military applications for computers. 
The proposal included a thousand-fold increase in computing power and 
an emphasis on artificial intelligence. It envisioned "completely autono- 
mous land, sea, and air vehicles capable of complex, far-ranging recon- 
naissance and attack missions." These vehicles would have human 
abilities, such as sight, speech, understanding natural language, and au- 
tomated reasoning. The Strategic Computing Plan promoted the view 
that the human element in many critical decision-making instances could 
be largely or totally replaced by machines. In describing its "pilot's asso- 
ciate," for example, SCP argues that pilots are "regularly overwhelmed by 
the quantity of incoming data and communications on which they must 
base life-or-death decisions." Now the machine will do it. All that the pilot 
will do is take off and land. 

The Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility has published an 
analysis of the Strategic Computing Plan. CPSR notes that the plan itscH 
acknowledges certain problems, as expressed in this quote: 

7 2 


Improvements in the speed and range of weapons have increased the 
rate at which battles unfold, resulting in a proliferation of computers 
to aid in information flow and decision-making at all levels of mil- 
itary organization. A countervailing effect on this trend is the rapidly 
decreasing predictability of military situations. . . . Commanders 
remain particularly concerned about the role that autonomous sys- 
tems would play during the transition from peace to hostilities when 
rules of engagement may be altered quickly. An extremely stressing 
example of such a case is the projected defense against strategic nu- 
clear missiles where systems must react so rapidly that it is likely that 
almost complete reliance will have to be placed on automated sys- 
tems. At the same time, the complexity and unpredictability of fac- 
tors affecting the decisions will be very great. 

Reliance on computers has already accelerated the rate of battle beyond 
the point at which human beings can be expected to react effectively. The 
military's answer to that problem is to create computers that can think and 
react better than humans. Even if such "smart' machines can be created, 
a uniquely human attribute is dropped out of the process: common-sense 
reasoning. The Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility have ad- 
dressed this loss: 

What distinguishes common-sense reasoning is the ability to draw 
on an enormous background of experience in the most unpredict- 
able ways. In directing a friend to your house, for example, you don't 
have to give instructions about all the possible things that might hap- 
pen along the way: fallen trees, accidents, flat tires, etc. . . . An ex- 
traordinary range of knowledge and experience [comes into play]; 
we never know what we'll need or when we'll need it. Nor do we 
usually even notice that we are using this background knowledge. 

This is the kind of knowledge that leads us, when looking at a situation 
that seems perfectly clear-cut, to say, "Something doesn't make sense about 
this," to draw upon a subtle knowledge based upon years of experience in 
similar situations. 

CPSR continues: 

The rules on which all computer systems are based treat the world 
as if it were built from a stock of predefined building blocks, put 
together in carefully prescribed ways. Artificial intelligence systems 
are particularly good at dealing with very complex configurations of 
these building blocks, often better than more traditional computer 
programs. But they are ill equipped to respond appropriately to new 



kinds ot blocks. ... In more complex environments, unanticipated 
events are liable to trigger anomalous reactions. That is why radar 
reflections off the rising moon fooled the NORAD system: Moons 
are not among the building blocks in terms of what had been pro- 
grammed into the computer. ... It is the job of programmers to an- 
ticipate ahead of time the range of problems that a computer system 
will encounter. . . . The behavior of the system depends entirely on 
the structure of the programs — on the rules and the ways in which 
they are put together. . . . [But] as the Strategic Computing Plan it- 
self points out, it is the unpredictability of war that poses the gravest 


The big question is this: Is it fair to blame computers for any or all of 
the above scenarios? Most people, even those who see the relationship be- 
tween computers and increased destructive potential, consider the com- 
puters themselves to be harmless. Value free. Neutral. "People invent the 
machines,*' is the common wisdom. "People program them, people push 
the buttons." 

And yet, it is a simple fact that if there were no computers, the process 
of engaging in war would be much more drawn out, with a lot more time 
for human beings to change their minds or seek alternatives. It is only be- 
cause computers do exist that a virtually automatic, instant worldwide 
war, involving total annihilation, even enters the realm of possibility. So, 
can we say that computers are to blame? 

It is also a fact that if computers somehow totally disappeared, the 
world would be instantly safer. Even if atom bombs continued to exist, 
they would no longer have effective delivery systems. Pakistan could still 
drop an atomic bomb on India, but the presently envisioned, all-out nu- 
clear war, which quite possibly could extinguish the human species, would 
be impossible. 

• • • 

I know that this is a difficult position to accept. Critics call it throwing the 
baby out with the bath water. Just because computers are integral to mod- 
ern systems of nuclear annihilation, does that mean we must rid ourselves 
of computers? I am not sure, but I think so. 

This society upholds a fierce technological idealism. We believe we can 
get the best from a given technology without falling into worst-case see- 



narios of the sort described above. We maintain this idealism despite the 
tact that we have no evidence of technology ever being used at an optimal 
level, or even being sensibly controlled. This is certainly true of automo- 
biles, which have virtually destroyed the natural world; and of television, 
which creates a common mental denominator; and of electrical energy 
generation, which is vastly overdeveloped to the detriment of the planet. 
Most technologies are actually deployed in the manner that is most useful 
to the institutions that gain from their use; this may have nothing to do 
with public or planetary good. 

We are also influenced by the paradigm that technological evolution is 
a good thing, that no bounds should be put upon knowledge or possibility. 
Other societies have the concept of taboo to deal with destructive tenden- 
cies, but in our society the idea of taboo is itself taboo. And, as we have 
discussed, our society does not have mechanisms for evaluating the nega- 
tive aspects of technology, so we bang ahead blindly, even in military 

The military-computer matchup is irresistible; for them, it is a match 
made in heaven. It is intrinsic to military thinking to seek the ability to act 
in more centralized, more complex, faster, more far-reaching, and more 
destructive ways. If you are a general whose task is fighting and winning 
wars, you love computers. No single technology has ever offered so much 
aid in so many areas. 

The U.S. military continues to be the largest single financial source for 
computer science research in the world. The attraction between the mili- 
tary and the computer sciences has an almost gravitational pull. In fact, 
one could argue that the recent consumerization of the computer is merely 
a glamorization, to help create public sympathy for its use as a panacea, 
when military use of computers is really the point. 

Of all possible beneficiaries, the military benefits most from computers. 
Computers mean more to the military than they ever will to you and me, 
or to educators, or even to corporations and banks, though they run a close 
second. And of all the world-altering implications of computers, the 
military-computer collaboration is the most potentially devastating. 

The possibility of computer-directed, instantaneous, worldwide holo- 
caust is not theoretical. Every military in the world has attached itself to 
computers, and all military strategies are now computer based. The pro- 
grams are written, the computers are ready to act. In the face of this reality, 
to speak of computers helping you edit your copy or run your little busi- 
ness seems a bit absurd. 



People who have read Four Arguments for the Elimination of Tele- 
vision will recognize much of the information in this chapter. I am 
restating certain points in the present context because of the critical role 
television plays in the larger technological web. 

For most human beings in the Western world, watching television has 
become the principal means of interaction with the new world now under 
construction, as well as a primary activity of everyday life. At the same 
time, the institutions at the fulcrum of the process use television to train 
human beings in what to think, what to feel, and how to be in the modern 

In the chapter that follows this one, which deals with satellite television, 
we examine additional impacts of television in the less-developed coun- 
tries, where it serves as an instrument of cultural cloning. 


Let's start with some 1990 statistics. They are of such monumental im- 
portance, and yet are so infrequently discussed, that I try to include them 
whenever I write about television. 

• According to the U.S. Department ot Commerce, 99. 5 percent ot the 
homes in the United States that have electricity have television sets. Klec 



tronically speaking, we are all wired together as a single entity. An elec- 
tronic signal sent from a single source can now reach nearly every person 
in the country — 250 million people across 3 million square miles — at ex- 
actly the same time. When such figures first appeared in the sixties, Mar- 
shall McLuhan hailed them as a portent of a new "global village," but 
he missed an important political point. The autocratic potential — the 
power of the one speaking into the brains of the many — is unprece- 
dented. Its consequences are only discussed adequately in science fiction, 
by such people as Orwell and Huxley. The consequences are also keenly 
appreciated by those institutions large enough to attempt to control the 
medium: corporations, government, religion. 

• According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, 95 percent of the U.S. popu- 
lation watches some TV every day. No day goes by without a "hit" of 
television, which indicates the level of engagement, or addiction, that 
people feel for the medium. 

• Nielsen reports that the average American home has a television on for 
nearly eight hours per day. The average American adult watches TV 
nearly five hours per day. The average child between ages two and five 
watches about three and a half hours per day. The average adult over 
fifty-five watches nearly six hours. 

Consider the situation of the average adult who watches for almost five 
hours daily. This person spends more time watching television than he or 
she spends doing anything else in life except sleeping or working or going 
to school. But if the average person is watching five hours per day, then 
roughly half of the U.S. population is watching more than five hours. (In 
practice, this means watching through most of each weekend, plus three 
or four hours each weeknight.) 

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the main activity of life for 
Americans, aside from work or sleep, has become watching television. 
Television has effectively replaced the diverse activities of previous gen- 
erations, such as community events, cultural pursuits, and family life. 

Ours is the first society in history of which it can be said that life has 
moved inside media. The average person, watching television for five 
hours per day, is physically engaged with — looking at and experiencing — 
a machine. To that extent, the person is not relating to anything else in the 
environment. But the environment of TV is not static, it is aggressive. It 
enters people's minds and leaves images within, which people then carry 
permanently. So television is an external environment that becomes an in- 
ternal, mental environment. 

television: audiovisual training 


The situation is really so odd that it lends itself well to science fiction 
descriptions. Imagine, for example, that a research team of anthropologists 
from Andromeda Galaxy is sent to Earth. Hovering above our country, 
the researchers might report back to their home base something like this: 

"We are scanning the Americans now. Night after night they sit still in 
dark rooms, not talking to each other, barely moving except to eat. Many 
of them sit in separate rooms, but even those sitting in groups rarely speak 
to one another. They are staring at a light! The light flickers on and off 
many times per second [from the AC current]. The humans' eyes are not 
moving, and since we know that there is an association between eye move- 
ment and thought, we have measured their brain waves. Their brains are 
in 'alpha,' a noncognitive, passive-receptive mode. The humans are 

"As for the light, it comes in the form of images, sent from only a few 
sources, thousands of miles from where the humans are gathering them 
in. The images are of places and events that are not, for the most part, 
related to the people's lives. Once placed into their heads, the images seem 
to take on permanence. We have noted that people use these images in 
their conversations with other people, and that they begin to dress and act 
in a manner that imitates the images. They also choose their national lead- 
ers from among the images. 

"In summary, this place seems to be engaged in some kind of weird 
mental training akin to brainwashing." 

If this is a fair description of the situation in the United States, it is also 
becoming a description of many other parts of the world. Right now, 
about 60 percent of the world population has access to television. In many 
places where television has recently arrived — remote villages in Africa, 
South America, Indonesia, northern Canada; places where there are not 
even roads — satellite communications have made it possible for people to 
ingest the dominant external society. In grass houses, on the frozen tundra, 
on tiny tropical islands, in the jungles of Brazil and Africa, people are sit- 
ting in their traditional homes of logs or mud or grass, and they are watch- 
ing "Dallas" and "The Edge of Night" and "Bonanza." 

More than 50 percent of the television watched outside the U.S. con- 
sists of reruns of popular American-made shows. Satellite communica- 
tions, introduced as yet another democratic breakthrough tor technology, 
are being used to place imagery of American-style commodity lite, Amer- 
ican values, American commercials, American-style experience in the 
heads of everyone, wherever they are. The end result will be worldwide 




We think of television as a democratic medium, since we all get to 
watch it in our homes. But if it is "democratic" on the receiving end, it is 
surely not that on the sending end. 

According to Advertising Age, about 75 percent of commercial network 
television time is paid for by the 100 largest corporations in the country. 
Many people do not react to this statistic as being important. But consider 
that there are presently 450,000 corporations in the United States, and 
some 250 million people, representing extremely diverse viewpoints about 
lifestyle, politics, and personal and national priorities. Only 100 corpora- 
tions get to decide what will appear on television and what will not. These 
corporations do not overtly announce their refusal to finance programs 
that contain views disconsonant with their own; their control is far more 
subtle. It works in the minds of television producers who, when thinking 
about what programs to produce, have to mitigate their desires by their 
need to sell the programs to corporate backers. An effective censorship 

While a small number of corporations pay for 75 percent of commercial 
broadcast time, and thereby dominate that medium, they now also pay for 
more than 50 percent of public television. During the Reagan years, fed- 
eral support for noncommercial television was virtually eliminated, leav- 
ing a void that public television filled by appealing to corporations. As 
corporate influence has grown in public TV, so has the quality and length 
of the corporate commercial tags before and after the shows they sponsor. 
Whereas public television once featured such messages as "This program 
has been brought to you through a grant by Exxon," now we see the Exxon 
logo, followed by an added advertising phrase or two and an audio slogan. 

The reason why only the largest corporations in the world dominate 
the broadcast signals is obvious: They are the only ones who can afford it. 
According to the present structure of network TV, a half-minute of prime 
time sells for about $200,000 to $300,000; during events such as the Super 
Bowl, the price is more like $700,000. Very few medium-sized corpora- 
tions or businesses, and even fewer individuals, could pay $200,000 for a 
single message broadcast to the world. 

If you and your friends decided that you had a very important state- 
ment to make about an issue — let's say the cutting down of old-growth 
redwoods in the Pacific Northwest — and if you were very fortunate (and 
rich), perhaps you could manage to raise sufficient money to actually place 
your message on the airwaves — once. Meanwhile, the multinational cor- 
poration doing the logging could buy the spot that appears before yours, 

television: audiovisual training 


and the one immediately after, and then three more later in the evening, 
and then five more tomorrow and the next day and the day after, and so 
on throughout the month. Some corporations have advertising budgets 
ranging from 100 million to over one billion dollars per year. Television is 
effectively a "private medium,'* for their use only. 

That television is a private system in the hands of the largest corpora- 
tions is difficult for most Americans to grasp. This is because we believe 
that freedom of speech is an inalienable right that we all enjoy equally. 
Nothing could be further from the truth. As A. J. Liebling said, "Freedom 
of the press is available only to those who own one." Similarly, freedom of 
speech is more available to some than to others, namely, to the people who 
can purchase it on national television. This leads to certain kinds of infor- 
mation dominating the airwaves. 

The ioo largest corporations manufacture drugs, chemicals, cosmetics, 
packaged-processed foods, cars, and oil, and are involved in other extrac- 
tive industries. But whether you are viewing a commercial for aspirin, cars, 
or cosmetics, the message is exactly the same. All advertising is saying this: 
Whether you buy this commodity or that one, satisfaction in life comes 
from commodities. 

So we have the most pervasive and powerful communications medium 
in history, and it is totally financed by people with identical views of how 
life should be lived. They express this view unabashedly. Which brings us 
to the most shocking statistic: The average American who watches five hours 
of television per day sees approximately 21,000 commercials per year. That's 
21,000 repetitions of essentially identical messages about life, aggressively 
placed into viewers' minds, all saying, Buy something — do it now! 

So an entire nation of people is sitting night after night in their rooms, 
in a passive condition, receiving information from faraway places in the 
form of imagery placed in their brains, repeated 21 ,000 times per year, tell- 
ing them how to live their lives. If the instrument responsible for this ac- 
tivity weren't TV, our familiar companion, then you, like the Andromeda 
scientists, would probably call it a system of mass brainwashing and po- 
litical control, and would be damned worried about it. 


Economics is not the only reason why television is such a suitable me- 
dium for corporate control. Equally important is the nature of the 
television-viewing experience; how television a fleets human beings. From 
a corporate point of view, the effect is beneiicial. 



• • • 

Even in the absence of chemical evidence of addiction, the amount of time 
people spend daily in front of their TV, and the way lives are scheduled 
around it, ought to be sufficient, de facto proof of TV's hypnotic and ad- 
dictive abilities. In fact, when I interviewed people for Four Arguments, 
interviewees consistently used terms such as "hypnotic," "mesmerizing " 
or "addictive" to describe their experiences of television viewing. And 
many used the term "zombie" to describe how their kids looked while 
watching television. 

Eventually, I sought scientific evidence about the validity of these an- 
ecdotal descriptions, and found some researchers ready to validate such 

For example, scientists who study brain-wave activity found that the 
longer one watches television, the more likely the brain will slip into "al- 
pha" level: a slow, steady brain-wave pattern in which the mind is in its 
most receptive mode. It is a noncognitive mode; i.e., information can be 
placed into the mind directly, without viewer participation. When watch- 
ing television, people are receiving images into their brains without think- 
ing about them. Australian National University researchers call this a kind 
of "sleep-teaching." So if you look at your child in front of the TV and 
think of him or her as "zonked," that is apparently an apt description. 

There are many reasons why the brain slips into this passive-receptive 
alpha condition. One reason is the lack of eye movement when watching 
TV, because of the small size of the screen. Sitting at a normal distance, 
the eye can gather most of the image without scanning the screen for it. 
The image comes in whole. This lack of seeding images disrupts the nor- 
mal association between eye movement and thought stimulation, which is 
a genetically provided safety valve for human beings. Before modern 
times, any unusual event in the environment would attract instant atten- 
tion; all the senses would immediately turn to it, including the vision sense 
and its "feeler," the eyes. But when an image doesn't have to be sought, an 
important form of mental stimulation is absent. 

A second factor causing the brain to slip into alpha-wave activity is that, 
with the eyes not moving and the screen flickering on and ofF sixty times 
per second, an effective hypnosis is induced, at least in the view of psy- 
chologists who use hypnotism. Looking at the flickering light of a TV 
screen is akin to staring at the hypnotist's candle. 

I think the third factor is the most important. The information on the 
TV screen — the images — come at their own speed, outside of the viewer's 

television: audiovisual training 


control; an image stream. One doesn't "pull out" and contemplate TV im- 
ages, as if they were still photographs or images described in a written pas- 
sage. If you attempted to do that you would fall behind the image stream. 
So there are two choices: surrender to the images, or withdraw from the 
experience. But if you are going to watch television (or film) at all, you 
must allow the images to enter you at their own speed. So, the nature of 
the experience makes you passive to its process, in body and mind. (More 
complete discussions of this process can be found in The Plug-In Drug by 
Marie Winn, and Australian National University's Choice of Futures by 
Fred and Merrylyn Emery, as well as in Four Arguments for the Elimination 
of Television.) 

Does this problem also exist with other media? Not to the same degree. 
Take film, for example. The nature of the film-going experience is that 
one usually goes with a friend. That, in itself, stimulates the mind. And 
since film is shown in a public place, with other people present, there are 
many more stimuli and feelings accompanying the experience; a mood en- 
velops the room. 

Also, film imagery is much more refined and detailed than television 
imagery. The TV image, composed of tiny dots, is very coarse compared 
with film. A lot is lost in the television picture. Film, on the other hand, 
can bring out great background detail, much better images of nature, 
much greater subtlety. The richer the detail of the image, the more in- 
volving it is to the viewer. (This comparative advantage for film imagery 
over TV will only be partially mitigated when "high-definition TV" is 
introduced in a few years.) 

Films are almost always shown on a much larger screen than are tele- 
vision programs, thus requiring considerably more eye movement. And 
when the film is over, the theater lights come up, people react, and finally 
rise to leave. They don't just sit there as the next stream of imagery invades 
them. The act of leaving, and then perhaps going to a cafe and talking it 
over, combined with the other elements of film-going, serve to bring the 
images up from the lower right brain (where images would otherwise re- 
side, like dreams) into greater consciousness. The images come out of the 
unconscious, unusable realms into the conscious, where they can be ex- 
amined to some extent. 

Radio is a medium that does not impose images at all; in fact, radio 
stimulates the imagination in much the way books do. A situation is de- 
scribed and the listener actively visualizes. This very act suppresses alpha. 
When watching television, on the other hand, one s own image-making 
goes into dormancy. 



Print media are by tar the most engaging and participatory of any me- 
dia. Since there is no inherent time limitation with books and newspapers, 
they can offer much more complex detail and background than any so- 
called visual medium. If I should now ask you to imagine a lush green 
field with a trickling stream, billowy clouds above, two great white dogs 
lying in the grass, lovers on a nearby hillside . . . you can certainly imagine 
that scene in great detail and color. You created these pictures in your own 
mind; they do not necessarily match the image I have in my mind of the 
same scene. If a similar image were shown on television, it would be flatter 
than the one you created. Meanwhile you would not be engaged in your 
own image-making; you would be passive to the process, relatively 

No medium is as effective as print for providing information in detail. 
Since it does not have the limitations of time, it can deliver to the reader 
whatever it takes to achieve understanding, from one or two sentences to 
multiple volumes. But most importantly, gathering data from print is an 
active, not passive, process. 

To read successfully, you must apply conscious mental effort. It is im- 
possible to be in alpha level while reading, at least not if you want to un- 
derstand what you read. We have all had the experience of reading a 
paragraph on a page, then realizing that we hadn't actually read it, then 
having to read the same material a second time. In doing this, we apply 
conscious effort to the process; we put our brain into a cognitive mode in 
order to grasp the information. 

Also, when reading, one has the opportunity to review the material, 
underline it, write notes in the margin, tear out a page, Xerox it, send cop- 
ies to friends, and reread at will, fast or slow. The reader controls most 
elements of the process and can create the conditions for accepting the in- 
formation. All of this is impossible with TV-viewing. The information 
must be taken as it comes, without resistance. As a result, researchers at 
Australian National University described the TV-viewing experience as 
inherently pacifying. San Francisco brain researcher Erik Peper said, "The 
word 'zombie' is the best way to describe the experience " And Cornell 
University professor Rose Goldsen called television viewing "mnemonic 
learning"; that is, "learning without the conscious participation of the 
learner." It is sleep-teaching. 

So television-viewing, if it can be compared to a drug experience, seems 
to have many of the characteristics of Valium and other tranquilizers. But 
that is only half of the story. Actually, if television is a drug, it is not really 
Valium; it is speed. 

television: audiovisual training 



In their famous study of the effects of television, researchers at Austra- 
lian National University predicted that as television became more popular 
in Australia, there would be a corresponding increase in hyperactivity 
among children. I found this prediction alarming because many parents 
of hyperactive children place their kids in front of the television set, where 
they seem to calm down. Apparently, the opposite effect is what finally 

Here's how it works: While sitting quietly in front of the TV, the child 
sees people punching each other on the screen. There is the impulse to 
react — the fight-or-flight instinct is activated — but since it would be ab- 
surd to react to a television fight, the child suppresses the emotion. As the 
fighting continues, so does the cycle of impulse and suppression. Through- 
out the television-viewing experience, the child is drawn back and forth on 
this see-saw of action and suppression, all the while appearing zapped and 
inactive. When the set goes off, this stored-up energy bursts forth in the 
disorganized, frantic behavior that we associate with hyperactivity. Often, 
the only calming act is to again put the set on, which starts the cycle anew. 
But there are also more subtle ways that television speeds humans up. 

• • • 

I am a member of the pre-television generation. Until I was in my late 
teens, there wasn't any television. So as a child my after-school activities 
were different from those of the average child today. 

I can recall how it felt coming home from school every day. First, I 
would look in the refrigerator to see if my mother had left me any snacks. 
I would quickly take care of those. Then, I might play with the dog. I 
would go up to my room. I would lie on the living room floor. I would 
become bored. Nothing to do. 

Slowly I would slip into a state that I have lately begun to call "down- 
time" (not in the computer sense) — a kind of deadly boredom. A bottom 
of feeling, as it were. It was connected with a gnawing anxiety in the stom- 
ach. It was so unpleasant that I would eventually decide to do something. I 
would call a friend. I would go outdoors. I would play ball. I would read. 

I think that the downtime I am describing was the norm for kids during 
the 1940s, when life was slower than it is today. Looking back, I view that 
time of nothingness as serving an important creative function. Out of this 
nothing-to-do condition some activity would eventually emerge. You got 
to the bottom of your feelings, you let things slide to their lowest state, and 

8 4 


then you took charge. You experienced yourself in movement, with ideas. 
Taking all young people in the country as a group, this downtime could 
be considered a national genetic pool of creativity. 

Today, however, after teenagers come home and begin to slip into 
downtime with its accompanying unpleasant feeling, they reach for the 
television knob. This stops the slide. Used this way, television is a mood- 
alteration system, like a drug. As the mood comes on, they reach for the 
drug, just as adults reach for the drink — or the TV — at the end of the 
day. So television for youngsters, in addition to being a drug, can be under- 
stood as early training for "harder" drugs. 

Obviously, we all have ways of altering our moods. However, I don't 
think most of us see our TV-watching as a mood-altering device. Under- 
standing it in such terms gives new meaning to the fact that the average 
young person watches for nearly four hours per day. By reaching for the 
TV drug, a generation of young people are short-circuiting their own 
downtime. They are not allowing themselves to live through the pits of 
their own experience, or to feel their own creative response to it. The net 
result, I think, will be a generation of young people who are less able to 
act on their own, or to be creative. Educators are already telling us that this 
is so. This habit may also be depriving young people of the fundamental 
self-knowledge that dealing with one's feelings produces. And it leaves 
this new drugged generation feeling that they can't experience life without 
technological and chemical props. So TV not only trains them for drug 
dependency, it also trains them for commodity dependency. 


When watching television, the viewer is moved into a perceptual uni- 
verse that is much, much faster than ordinary life. To get an idea of how 
this works, I suggest that you turn on your television set now and switch 
to a commercial network. (This is an especially useful exercise to do during 
prime time, when more money is spent on production values.) Count the 
number of times something happens in the image that could not happen 
in ordinary life. One moment the camera puts you in front of the image, 
in another moment you are behind it or above it or rolling around it. Then 
you are out on the street; then it is tomorrow, or yesterday. A commercial 
appears on the screen with dancers, music, and cartoons. A couple walks 
on a hillside hundreds of yards away, but you can hear them speaking as 
though you were next to them. Words flash on and off the screen. There 
are suddenly two simultaneous images, or three. You are looking at a face, 

television: audiovisual training 


then suddenly at hands, then suddenly you are outdoors. Long periods of 
historical time are jammed together. You move from landscape, to sky, to 
humans in rapid succession. Young people are running toward you — Cut. 
Now they are on a beach — Cut. Now you are watching beer poured into 
a glass — Cut. Now music is playing — Cut. An announcer speaks from 
somewhere. Now you are in Europe. Now in Asia. There is a war, there 
is a commercial . . . All of this is jammed together in a steady stream of 
imagery, fracturing your attention while condensing time and mixing cat- 
egories of reality, nonreality, and semireality. 

These image fluctuations and technical changes, as well as hundreds of 
other kinds not mentioned, are what I have called technical events in tele- 
vision imagery. These alterations of the image could not happen in ordi- 
nary life; they are technical alterations only possible within moving-image 
media: films, video, or television. 

If you actually counted these technical events as I suggested above, you 
would find that during commercials — especially during prime time — the 
image changes at an average of ten to fifteen times per thirty-second com- 
mercial. During a regular program on a commercial channel, camera 
movements or technical events occur about seven to ten times per minute. 
On public television programs, there are probably three to four camera 
movements or technical events per minute. (There are fewer on public 
television than commercial television simply because commercial televi- 
sion can afford more cameras, more edits, and more technology. Similarly, 
advertisers can spend more than any television program can afford. This 
is one reason why people pay attention to advertising despite the lack of 
real content. It is visually more engaging. When people say that "adver- 
tising is the most interesting thing on television" they are not aware they 
are speaking about the technology of advertising.) 

This hyperactivated imagery continues for as long as a viewer is watch- 
ing the screen. For heavy viewers of television it means five or six (or more) 
hours living within a perceptual universe that is constantly fractured, and 
in which time and events are both condensed and accelerated. 

Finally, the set goes off. The viewers are back in their rooms. Nothing 
is moving. The room does not rise up or whirl around. People do not sud- 
denly flash on and off in front of them. It doesn't become tomorrow or 
yesterday in a flash. Actually, nothing at all is happening. There is simply 
the same room as before: walls, windows, furniture. Ordinary life and or- 
dinary feelings and thoughts. Very slow, by comparison. Too slow. Anxiety 
sets in. 

Having lived in the amazingly rapid world of television imagery, or 
dinary life is dull by comparison, and far too slow. Hut consider how it 



affects one's ability to be in nature. The natural world is really slow. Save 
for the waving of trees in the wind, or the occasional animal movement, 
things barely happen at all. To experience nature, to feel its subtleties, re- 
quires human perceptual ability that is capable of slowness. It requires that 
human beings approach the experience with patience and calm. Life in the 
modern world does not encourage that; it encourages the opposite. Cars, 
planes, video games, faxes, Walkmans, television, computers, working and 
traveling on schedules dictated by assembly lines and offices — we in the 
Western world have attuned ourselves to rhythms that are outside of na- 
ture. We are trained to seek satisfaction in the packaging that technology 
provides. Big "hits." We live in a world of constant catharsis, constant 
change, constant unrest. While out in the real world, in nature, we become 
anxious and uncomfortable. We desire to get back indoors, to get that TV 
set back on, to get "up to speed." 

For children, this change is very serious, and has been well noted by 
educators. Countless teachers have told me how young people are utterly 
unable to maintain attention. They become bored after only a few minutes 
of the same subject. They need constant change. And they need the teacher 
to "perform" rather then teach, to deliver material with snappy punch 
lines. As for reading, very few young people are now patient enough to get 
through a book such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where events move 
slowly and where detail, rather than constant explosive content, is what 

But not only children are affected by this replacement of our living en- 
vironment with television. All human beings are changing. We are all 
being sped up. The natural world has retreated beyond our awareness. We 
hear people say that nature is boring, and it is clear why they say this. We 
don't know how to be with it. We are not slow enough. Caring about what 
happens to nature is not part of our emotional world, which helps pave 
the way for the exploitation of nature and native people. Simultaneously, 
it makes us think that our future is on some other planet out there in space. 

Television synchronizes our internal processes with the new world of 
concrete, computers, space travel, and acceleration. It makes our insides — 
brain and nervous system — compatible with the world outside ourselves. 
For human beings, it is the worst possible combination of influences. It 
puts our brains into a passive alpha state, zapping our thinking processes 
and destroying our creative impulses. Simultaneously, it speeds up our 
nervous systems, making us too fast to feel calm, too fast to read, almost 
too fast to relate meaningfully to other human beings, and too fast for na- 
ture. From this alienation training, a new human emerges. Speed junkie. 
Videovoid. Technovoid. 

television: audiovisual training 



When people spend the greatest part of their lives relating to television 
imagery, then television imagery becomes the greatest part of people's 
lives. It begins to seem like life itself. Television images define the terms 
of people's understanding, the boundaries of human awareness. Without 
an offsetting system of imagery in people's lives, television images take on 
a quality of reality that they do not deserve. 

The political consequences of such a situation, where a population be- 
comes isolated within an artificial information environment, has been a 
favorite subject of many science-fiction writers over the years. 

George Orwell's ig8^. describes an information environment so mono- 
lithic and aggressive that it became the total source and absolute limit of 
human knowledge. Every room had a two-way "telescreen" that could not 
be turned off; its nonstop programming consisted of official music, eco- 
nomic data, and constant reports of military victories. 

In /o&£ television became the instrument of daily training sessions for 
human emotions via constant juxtapositions of the images of Good vs. 
Evil: the benevolent, beloved Big Brother versus the hated, loathsome en- 
emy, Goldstein. "Two Minutes Hate" periods would be regularly sched- 
uled each day; the "disgusting" image of Goldstein on the TV screen, 
amid streams of official invective, caused the entire populace to join fren- 
zied mass rages, "a hideous ecstacy of fear and vindictiveness." 

Print media — books, documents, diaries — were virtually eliminated. 
Without such written records, the past became a manufactured creation 
of the present. Anything that differed from the telescreen version of reality 
existed solely in the memories of a few individuals, who would eventually 
be found out. Earlier languages were destroyed, and it was forbidden to 
visit the wilderness, which was itself the past. 

The effect of the total control of imagery was to unify mass conscious- 
ness within a single-media version of reality. With all information coming 
disembodied via the telescreen, and with the whole population receiving 
this monolithic information at the same time, and with no verifiable points 
of comparison, how was one to know what was true and real and what 
was not? Did Goldstein even exist? Did Big Brother? How could anyone 
know? Reality was up for grabs. Resistance to information was pointless. 
All minds merged with the official imagery. Eventually, people accepted 
even utterly contradictory "doublethink" statements: "war is peace," 


Obviously, there are big differences between the scenario depicted in 
1984 and present-day America, but as television-viewing statistics iiuli- 



cate, the differences may be less significant than the similarities. Television 
has become the primary world we relate to. Like Orwell's nonstop broad- 
casts, TV enters and occupies our minds and causes similar results, as we 
will discuss. 

In his science-fiction book Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury tells of a so- 
ciety in which human relationships are less important than the relation- 
ships people have with characters in television shows. Every home has a 
wall-sized television screen. And the characters on the screen are pro- 
grammed to address the viewers personally. The TV characters, therefore, 
become the primary characters in people's lives. 

You have only to listen to conversations these days — on buses, in res- 
taurants, or even at the office — to observe that many people discuss the 
characters in sitcoms and soaps as if they were neighbors or friends. People 
in our society often follow the lives of TV people with greater care and 
interest than they follow the lives of their own family members. For many 
people — especially heavy television viewers — life and television have al- 
ready merged. 

There are bizarre consequences to this. Years ago, 250,000 people wrote 
to Marcus Welby, M.D., asking for medical advice. Performers in soaps 
have often been assaulted and verbally abused by people on the street for 
their characters' behavior. Many researchers — most notably, Gerbner and 
Gross of the University of Pennsylvania — have established that Ameri- 
cans tend to take even fictional TV shows as true and believable. Recently, 
people such as Nancy Reagan, Henry Kissinger, and Michael Jordan have 
made guest appearances on sitcoms. Does this make the other characters, 
or the show itself, more real? Or does it make Kissinger less real? Fiction 
and reality have lost their boundaries. 

People who immerse themselves in the surrogate reality of television 
life deal on a daily basis with a reality totally unlike any that has preceded 
it. For example, when watching television news, you are presumably tak- 
ing in actual world events, happening before you as they happen in real- 
time. But actually, most of what you see happened earlier; you are viewing 
edited tapes of these events. Sometimes the events being described are not 
presented as images, but are verbal descriptions by the announcer. Then 
the news is interrupted by a commercial. The commercial is not happening 
in the same place as the event that just preceded it, nor is the announcer 
in that place. Yet they are all somehow within this image stream. Soon after 
this, you may be watching a fictional dramatic program, which uses real 
people performing scripted events, in an accelerated time frame, also in- 
terrupted by commercials that may feature well-known stars relating to 
unreal situations in a realistic manner. Then you watch a docudrama, 

television: audiovisual training 


which is a fictionalized re-creation of a real event, in which you are asked 
to grasp both the realistic elements and the re-created semifictional ele- 
ments in the same plane of understanding. (In 1989, ABC News was dis- 
covered to have simulated a contact between an alleged U.S. spy and a 
Soviet agent; this was the first known case of "re-created actuality*' within 
a format that claimed reality.) 

In other instances, you may be watching the future, which looks real, 
but is actually a scripted drama. Or talk shows, in which real people, usu- 
ally actors (who normally play fictional roles), talk about real events in 
their actual lives. Then again commercials appear, which have "real" ac- 
tors who are playing roles, as well as real people like John Madden or 
Chuck Yeager (the test pilot) in acting roles, and so on. 

I have not even scratched the surface of the numbers of categories of 
reality that come and go every few minutes on television. Meanwhile, how- 
ever, you are actually sitting home in your room and all of this imagery 
enters your mind without vivid distinction. When you see Henry Kissin- 
ger in a drama you may say to yourself, "This is Henry Kissinger; he is not 
in the same category of reality as the other actors; there is another level of 
reality operating here," but probably you don't. You just accept the stream 
as it comes. For heavy viewers of television, practiced in this acceptance, 
distinctions become extremely blurred. 

Whereas the fictional presentations of television take on a kind of real- 
ity, the real events of the political world, which are also fitted into the im- 
age flow, take on the characteristics of the fictional material on the screen. 
Wars, riots, international spying, and electoral contests all begin to be 
viewed as the latest exciting TV series or, in the case of presidential con- 
tests, as sporting events. They come and go as frequently as sitcoms or 
drama, and are just as dependent on the ratings. (The choice of subjects 
for TV news is often based upon what will attract and maintain viewers. 
See Edward J. Epstein's News From Nowhere) And so each great tragedy 
or world crisis — even those as monumental as the Philippines revolution, 
or the democratic uprisings in China and Eastern Europe, or the Cher- 
nobyl disaster, or the Salman Rushdie death threat, or the war between the 
U.S. and Iraq — each news event dominates the tube for a short while, and 
then is put on the back burner or totally forgotten. Each of the productions 
fit nicely into evening-news formats; they run steadily for two to eight 
weeks, depending on the subject and the attention span of the viewers, and 
then are dropped. 

7 hey all deal with "real" world events, but they come to us in the steady, 
mixed-up stream of real, unreal, and semireal events that is everyday tele- 
vision. In our minds, these real news events merge with other material, 



becoming just another set of stored imagery that all have similar reality 
values. They enter and leave our lives with the accelerated rhythms of the 
rest of television events, eventually dissolving into the past. We become 
engaged, enraged, entertained, involved, and then they are over. We feel 
we have been experiencing our lives as we watch these world events, but 
really all that happened is that we sat home in our living rooms and 
watched television. This is true whether we are watching news, or Cous- 
teau's whales, or our "friends" on the late-night talks shows or in the soaps. 
They are all part of the same pulsating stream of imagery and so they be- 
come equal in our minds. J. R. Ewing, John Madden, Johnny Carson, 
Imelda Marcos, Sylvester Stallone, Madonna, Roseanne, Moammar Khad- 
afy, Bart Simpson, Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Laura Palmer, Sad- 
dam Hussein, Charlton Heston, Manuel Noriega, Clint Eastwood . . . (As 
you read each of these names, did you get a visual picture of each of them? 
You did! Did you realize that there were pictures of these people living in 
your mind? Or that you hold all these images, which represent wildly dif- 
ferent categories of "real life," from politician to athlete to performer to 
fictional character, to cartoon, on more or less the same plane of reality?) 

Though we can distinguish among the categories of reality that the 
television stream delivers to us, we rarely do. We let the images flow and 
lodge into our brains without distinction. That the resultant wipe-out of 
the lines between real and not real might lead us to some distortion in our 
political reality should have been obvious to us many years ago. 


Comedians have often suggested that Ronald Reagan's immense pop- 
ularity might have been helped by television-induced confusion. But I 
would like to make the case that this was concretely true, and that it's not 
so funny. 

Ronald Reagan spent his adult life being an image, sometimes fic- 
tional — as when performing in films — and sometimes in that odd semi- 
reality that performers obtain in commercials. For his career combined 
film acting and, perhaps more important, spokesperson roles for General 
Electric Company advertising. 

Because of his background, Reagan handled television as president 
with astonishing skill and power. He understood, as no one did before, 
that on television, style supersedes content: The way you behave and look 
is more important than what you say or do. He knew that complexity and 
historical perspective do not come across on TV as well as simplicity, bald 

television: audiovisual training 

assertion, the heavy use of symbolic content, and the appeal to formulaic 
values, deeply imbedded in Americans by previous decades of television 
and film: Good vs. Evil, America vs. The Enemy, Revere the Flag. (Rea- 
gan^ protege, George Bush, also learned these lessons; he was elected in 
1988 because of his embrace of TV symbolism — the flag, the pledge of 
allegiance, black rapists — mixed with spots about Dukakis and pollution, 
which turned out to be lies.) 

Reagan's most remarkable achievement was to incorporate in his own 
persona an amazing set of archetypes from the popular movies of the 
1940s and 1950s. In the real role of president, Ronald Reagan re-created 
a set of images that had been reinforced by standard story lines since 
World War II; he was making real what was previously just imagery held 
in the minds of the population. 

Ronald Reagan became the World War II hero, standing tall. He be- 
came the admiral on the bridge of the ship, taking on the hated Nazis and 
Japanese, though it became the Commies and the Iranians. He was the 
western hero, slow to anger, but push him too far and he became fierce in 
his response. He was not Rambo, a contemporary unfeeling slaughterer. 
He had morals. He was John Wayne. He was Gary Cooper in High Noon. 

Reagan was also the family man of the 1950s: affable, homey, a little bit 
sexy, and in love with his adoring wife. He was kindly and grandfatherly, 
with a few personality quirks. He didn't remember things so good. He 
pronounced some of them fancy French names wrong. He meant Camus, 
but he said "Kaymus." But his fallabilities made us love him more; they 
gave him an unthreatening, comedic aspect, sort of like Jimmy Stewart. 

Yet he was also the authoritative spokesperson — the same one he used 
to be for General Electric. He believed in the technological dream and was 
willing to sell it hard. He believed in the American vision of the good life. 
He knew technology could achieve anything. He loved the challenge of 
the future. "Progress is our most important product." 

All of these characteristics were stereotypes from popular movies of the 
forties and fifties, and they remained in the minds of the millions of people 
who saw them. They conjured memories of a simpler time, when solu- 
tions were clear, when America was on top, and heroes and ordinary 
people could change things. 

Ronald Reagan could reach into those memories of a generation, and 
incorporate them into himself. He appealed to the collective media un- 
conscious to produce an almost alchemical result, making real what was 
previously fiction. 

Reagan also grasped the antihistorical nature of TV reality, its nowness. 
He was very aggressive in his attempts to create historical truth. I le under- 



stood that when a population is confined to a single information source, 
especially one that speaks imagery directly into the brain, that source has 
unprecedented power as a tool to control human minds. As in 198^ real 
and unreal, truth and fiction, become equally arbitrary, for there is no way 
to clarify or check what TV asserts. And so Reagan could call his invasion 
of Grenada a "rescue" of students who were never in danger. He could 
assert that the Soviets knew that Korean Air flight 007 was a passenger 
plane before they shot it down, though subsequent stories suggested that 
Reagan knew that the Soviets did not know. (The initial image stuck, and 
the event is still understood in those terms today.) By asserting that Libya 
was behind the Berlin disco bombing, Reagan made that true for millions 
of Americans, and we supported his bloody retaliation, though later evi- 
dence showed that Syria had most likely created that event. 

Ronald Reagan called MX missiles "peacekeepers." He said that low- 
ering taxes on the wealthy benefited the poor, and he unabashedly claimed 
that massive rearming was the way to disarm. A few years later, George 
Bush said "the last best chance for peace" was to declare war against Iraq, 
and then said "the goal of the war is peace." All these statements qualify 
as advanced "doublespeak." 

Reagan and Bush also understood the important Orwellian lesson in 
focusing public hatred on the repeated images of the enemy. Orwell had 
used the loathsome TV visage of Goldstein in "Two Minutes Hate" pe- 
riods throughout the day. Reagan used Khomeni, then Khadafy, then Or- 
tega. Bush continued the tendency, focusing American hatred on images 
of Willie Horton, then Manuel Noriega, then Saddam Hussein. 

The degree to which the public has accepted such presidential behavior 
without rebellion, and has enthusiastically supported both Reagan and 
Bush, is the degree to which George Orwell's predictions have proven ac- 
curate, and that television's political importance has been realized. 


February 4, 1991 . As I write these words we are three weeks into the 
Iraq-U.S. war. My friends tell me they are "glued" to their TV screens, 
and ask if I am too. 

In fact, I have watched some TV, more in amazement and disgust than 
for any useful information. Radio news, notably from National Public Ra- 
dio and the Pacifica Network, has been far more detailed, informative, his- 

television: audiovisual training 


torical, wide-ranging, multifaceted, and faster in covering important 

As with other news in the past, television's ability to deliver has been 
highly overrated. From the first day of the war, when CNN's Baghdad 
correspondents reported bombing in the city, TV delivered very little in 
the way of actual war footage. This was partly due to Pentagon censorship, 
which prohibited reporters from going into the field except under con- 
trolled conditions, prohibited images of American dead or of body bags, 
permitted only scant contact with outside sources, and censored all mili- 
tary communiques. Reporters were essentially confined to official versions 
of the story. Former New Yor^ Times political correspondent Richard 
Reeves characterized the TV industry, because of its submissive perfor- 
mance, as "PNN, the Pentagon News Network." 

Also important were the technical limits of television. To get near the 
action, TV requires that relatively cumbersome, sometimes heavy video 
and sound equipment make its way across difficult terrain, and back. Ra- 
dio and telephone transmission is far less difficult, more mobile, less ex- 
pensive, and quicker under many circumstances. The net effect was that 
people who were at home glued to their TV screens were seeing mainly 
still photographs of CNN's or other correspondents, held on the screen 
for many minutes, while the story was actually reported by a telephone 
linkup. The only other images were occasional maps of the Middle East, 
or Pentagon stock footage of missiles or planes, or "talking head" shots of 
generals and commentators. Any usable, concrete information came al- 
most exclusively in words, not images. So, while 100 million people be- 
lieved themselves to be experiencing television, what they were really 
getting was radio, with a lit screen. 

Throughout this massive barrage of military talking, there was scarcely 
one alternative viewpoint on television. Antiwar opinion was limited to an 
occasional twenty-second shot of a peace march, grossly underestimated 
rally counts, and no presentation of what marchers actually had to say. 
While there were many hours of interviews with military strategists, and 
loving details about weaponry, there were no serious interviews with an- 
tiwar leaders, or with people who could have provided a variety of view- 
points: leaders of women's organizations, artists, humanists, native people, 
environmentalists (except in reaction to the oil spill), pacifists, or, for that 
matter, people skilled in the arts of negotiation rather than war. Then, 
when poll results came in, everyone was surprised at the degree to which 
the public supported the war. How could the public do otherwise? What 
information were they given to perceive any alternative? 



To their immense credit, noncommercial radio, and occasional news- 
paper reports, did provide some broader perspectives, but the monolithic 
power and domination of television made those voices, in those media, less 
significant than they should have been. 

Television was essentially an instrument of official policy during the 
first weeks of the war. It adopted the role of cheerleader for the military- 
government viewpoint. The high point was probably the 1991 Super Bowl, 
which was indistinguishable from a multimedia pro-war extravaganza. 
The fans were shown waving American flags while sitting on red, white, 
and blue cushions. The players and coaches were interviewed about their 
hopes for our side in the larger game of war. The halftime show was a 
patriotic Disney display of the superiority of American values. And there 
were several intercuts to George and Barbara Bush, watching the game at 
home, and speaking to us about how their thoughts, like ours, were on the 
righteousness of our "just cause" in the Persian Gulf. And then, Peter Jen- 
nings showed us — oh no! — those videos. 

Now it was time for television to really strut its stuff. The video images 
of the laser- and radar-guided missiles striking their targets with precision 
were made-in-heaven for television. It brought us, the viewers, into the 
cockpit of the plane; we could see the same screen the pilot saw. It dem- 
onstrated the unique artistic capability of the medium, equal to its delivery 
of multifaceted and multidimensional advertising imagery. 

The laser-bomb images also revealed the natural symbiosis among 
video, computer, broadcast satellite, radar, and laser technologies, which 
stimulated 100 million people to glory in the miraculous technical supe- 
riority of our society. No other medium had ever been able to create such 
a brilliant advertisement, and instill such awe, for technology itself. 

Of course, this so-called war footage that we were seeing — virtually the 
only war footage we saw during those first three weeks — had a familiar 
look to it. It was precisely the kind of imagery we had been trained to 
accept and to love, from a decade of playing video games. When Mr. Rea- 
gan said that video games were good training for bomber pilots, he failed 
to mention that it was also good training for us; it enabled us to truly iden- 
tify with the bomber pilots, and brought us closer to them. 

That the two sources of imagery — video games and war — became in- 
tertwined in our minds, and that the war itself became something of a 
giant video game, was so apparent that it was even noted by mass media 
pundits. What was not sufficiently noted was how amazingly odd this was. 

I have described how Ronald Reagan had become a human presidential 
replay of previously implanted film and TV imagery. The images ot high- 

television: audiovisual training 


tech war were also replays of previously implanted video imagery. They 
produced an instant hit of recognition, familiarity, and support for this 
utterly unprecedented technological merger. It was so neat, somehow, that 
all our favorite toys — computers, television, video games, and war 
games — had merged this way into something we could all experience 
right up there with our real pilots. 

Nonetheless, there remained one area of confusion. For unlike the 
video-game wars in video parlors, the actual bombs had a final outcome 
that was not merely electronic: It was metal against flesh. This we did not 

Psychologist Robert Jay Lifton has written eloquently about the effects 
of high-technology warfare, which distances our society from the aware- 
ness of our acts. He calls it "psychic numbing." Our society remains ap- 
palled at the continuous acts of violence on our streets, where a killer so 
often acts impersonally, without feeling. And yet, says Lifton, through the 
collaboration and merging of the new technologies into TV imagery, we 
participate in the acts of violence performed by our military without ac- 
tually experiencing them. And rather than being appalled by these acts, 
we like them. We are thrilled and excited by "the kill," as our military puts 
it, but are numb to the death that is involved. Rather than bringing us pain, 
it brings us pleasure. (The same is also true of the actual killers, the pilots.) 

Finally what is revealed by television's performance in the war is its 
amazing efficiency when controlled by central authority. Of course we've 
already observed that efficiency over the last decades of television s control 
by corporations, which also train the population to view reality in a pre- 
determined fashion, while minimizing alternative views. In times of war, 
the corporate role recedes temporarily. In fact, many advertisers withdrew 
their commercials for a time when war broke out, allowing the military 
issues to take center stage. Anyway, the celebration of high-tech war im- 
ages ultimately supports corporate goals, which makes another neat 

The main point to understand in all this is that the efficiency of tele- 
vision in influencing and controlling the populace does not result so much 
from any premeditated conspiracy by the military or corporations as it 
does from a de facto conspiracy of technical factors. As is the case with 
computers, TV technology is more efficient and more effective as an in- 
strument of centralized control than it is for any other use. 

The factors that conspire to create this inevitable condition include 
TV's incredible reach into every home in the country, and someday, every 
home in the world, combined with the power of the imagery it places in 



our brains. In addition, in more individual terms, it encourages passivity, 
isolation, confusion, addiction, and alienation; it homogenizes values and 
shuts out alternative visions. 

Television is uniquely suited to implant and continuously reinforce 
dominant ideologies. And, while it hones our minds, it also accelerates our 
nervous systems into a form that matches the technological reality that is 
upon us. Television effectively produces a new form of human being — 
less creative, less able to make subtle distinctions, speedier, and more in- 
terested in things — albeit better able to handle, appreciate, and approve of 
the new technological world. High-speed computers, faxes, lasers, satel- 
lites, robotics, high-tech war, space travel, and the further suppression of 
nature are more palatable and desirable for us because of our involvement 
with TV. The ultimate result, in high-tech terms, is that television rede- 
signs us to be compatible with the future. 



The Case of the Dene Indians 

/f there is a basic principle of environmentalism, it is that diversity 
is good. Beyond good, it is a bottom-line necessity for natural systems 
to survive. Writers such as Paul Ehrlich, Ray Dasmann, and Wes Jackson 
have reported on the decline of the planet's plant and animal species, 
which threatens to collapse the genetic pool by which the planet retains its 
biological health. Technology can be blamed for many of these develop- 
ments: for example, the role of pesticides in creating one-crop agribusi- 
ness, in lieu of diverse multicrop systems, or the role of dams in destroying 
the unimaginably complex interactions among life forms in rainforests. 
But the idea that communications technology, particularly television, can 
have a role in destroying diversity within the human realm is rarely noted. 

By its ability to implant identical images into the minds of millions of 
people, TV can homogenize perspectives, knowledge, tastes, and desires, 
to make them resemble the tastes and interests of the people who transmit 
the imagery. In our world, the transmitters of the images are corporations 
whose ideal of life is technologically oriented, commodity oriented, ma- 
terialistic, and hostile to nature. And satellite communications is the mech- 

9 8 


anism by which television is delivered into parts of the planet that have, 
until recently, been spared this assault. 

• • • 

Like other technologies, satellite television was introduced amid praise for 
its democratic potential. The argument went that on the sending end, sat- 
ellites would diversify television content since groups representing any 
viewpoint, even those excluded from the old broadcast system, could have 
equal access. Meanwhile, on the receiving end, satellite TV would be es- 
pecially beneficial to the technologically deprived parts of the globe. 
People who live without roads or running water, in Borneo, Africa, and 
the far north, could now have direct access to the collective wisdom and 
science of the West. By now, because of satellite installations, more than 
60 percent of the world population has access to television. 

This best-case scenario for satellite TV left out three points: 1) the cost 
of sending programs and messages via satellite virtually precludes its use 
by anyone except the same corporations and governments who use broad- 
cast signals; 2) the "primitive" peoples blessed with this new technology 
mainly get to receive our imagery, without being able to send much of 
their own; 3) the effect of this one-way communication into the brains and 
hearts of peoples living in the jungles and tundras is devastating. It paves 
the way for the technological juggernaut, while destroying native culture, 
economy, and political viability. 

In 1984 I was invited to see firsthand how satellite television's arrival 
into a remote place can make sudden, serious impacts on the culture and 
economy of an area. The invitation came from the Native Women's As- 
sociation of the Northwest Territories. The group asked that I go north to 
participate in some workshops concerning television, which was just then 
arriving in the region. The largest town in the NWT, Yellowknife (pop- 
ulation now about 14,000), had been receiving TV signals by satellite for 
about ten years. But most of the smaller communities had refused to per- 
mit satellite dishes to be installed. Pressure from the Canadian govern- 
ment had been steady, however, and during the preceding few years some 
fifteen of the native communities had buckled. Others were considering 
doing likewise. 

The Dene Indian and Inuit (Eskimo) women who are members of the 
Native Women's Association were worried. In communities where tele- 
vision had gained a foothold, they had noticed sudden and sometimes ex- 
treme changes in community and family life, in the behavior and values 
of young people, and in the interest in sustaining traditional survival skills 

television: the case of the dene Indians 


in one of the world's harshest environments. The women thought I might 
help them develop an agenda of topics for their workshops. 

"unpopulated icy wasteland' 5 

If you have ever heard of the Mackenzie River Valley, it is probably be- 
cause of the Russian nuclear satellite that began falling out of orbit to 
Earth in 1978. For weeks there was frightened speculation about where it 
would land, and spray its nuclear guts. What if it fell on New York, or 
London, or Moscow? To the relief of most people, the thing finally 
crashed to Earth in hundreds of bits along a 300-mile swath through what 
was termed an "unpopulated icy wasteland" near the Arctic Circle. Ac- 
tually, the disintegrating satellite flew over a region containing some 
twenty-six communities of Dene and Inuit, whose people have lived there 
for 20,000 years. That the region could be called "unpopulated" reveals the 
degree to which indigenous people remain invisible to the main players in 
today s world. It was not as if the stuff had fallen on real Canadians. 

Until recently it would have been fair to argue that the nearly one mil- 
lion square miles of land in the Northwest Territories was not really part 
of Canada at all. Though England granted Canada (including the vast 
north) its independence in 1867, there was no official presence in the 
NWT — save three tiny post offices and an occasional Mounted Police- 
man — until one government office was opened in 1967. For a century, the 
region had been governed, if you can call it that, from Ottawa. Mostly it 
was ignored. As a result, the Dene, Inuit, and a third small culturally dis- 
tinct group, the Metis (mixed natives and whites) had maintained a way 
of life that was essentially unchanged for thousands of years. 

In a climate where winter temperatures hover at 30 degrees below zero 
Fahrenheit, where the growing season is extremely short, and where total 
precipitation is so slight that the area nearly qualifies as desert, these people 
have survived. Their traditional economy has been based on hunting car- 
ibou and other animals, ice fishing in the thousands of tiny lakes, and, 
among the Inuit, hunting seals. In more recent times — since the seven- 
teenth century — commercial trapping has become significant. The Hud- 
son's Bay Company paid cash and/or guns for animal skins. They also 
bought the fabulous caribou and moose mukluks, decorated with beads 
and porcupine quills. So good was this business for the Hudson's Bay 
Company that in times of severe weather the company would send emer- 
gency food supplies to the Indians and actively urged the Canadian gov- 



eminent to do likewise. But until the 1900s the Canadians had little 
interest in anything that went on in Indian country. 

As recently as the turn of the twentieth century, there were only 137 
non-native people in the entire Northwest Territories. For the most part, 
therefore, the native population remained as isolated as the Indian people 
of the Amazon or New Guinea; they were left alone on their land because 
there was no demand for its use. 

Change began in the 1920s when oil was discovered in the northern 
Mackenzie Valley. For the first time the Canadian government felt it 
would be prudent to do something "legal" to gain a clear title to the north. 
The English grant of title the century before was barely known by the 
Indians and Inuit who were virtually the entire population; even if it was 
known, it was not recognized as valid. So the government decided to for- 
malize matters with treaties. 

Having observed the brutal treatment of the Indians by the United 
States, Canada set out upon a more "humanistic" Indian policy. Indeed, 
Canada never engaged in the sort of military massacres that characterized 
U.S.-Indian relations in the nineteenth century, and that are still common 
in many parts of the world. But the Canadians choice of "nonviolence" is 
where the differences end. 

The treaties of the 1920s were made with the same aggressive and mis- 
leading practices as they were in the United States, with similar disregard 
for human or legal rights. They are now the subject of bitter dispute. 

The Indians, very few of whom spoke English, signed treaties that they 
believed said nothing about the cession of land. According to recent court 
testimony, the natives assumed the Mackenzie Valley was to remain their 
land and the treaties were only for "peace and friendship." The Canadians, 
however, produced pieces of paper written in English, purportedly signed 
by the Dene, which agreed to "cede, release, surrender, and yield up to the 
government" all rights, titles, and privileges to the land. In return, the na- 
tives were to be paid five dollars each per year, and were permitted to hunt, 
fish, and live in traditional places unless and until the government wanted 
to use the land in some other way. 

Since little oil drilling, or any other kind of development, actually took 
place in the 1920s, the differing understandings went mostly unnoticed for 
a while. But during and after World War II Canada became more ag- 
gressive about getting the oil out of the ground and down to the cities, and 
made lease agreements with Exxon, Gulf, and British Petroleum for drill- 
ing rights in the Mackenzie Valley. A small pipeline was begun in the far 
north, and plans were developed to build a mammoth 1 , 500-mile gas pipe- 

television: the case of the dene Indians 


line south through the Mackenzie Valley to Alberta. But the Indians were 
not pleased. By the 1950s, the government started imposing restrictions on 
where the Indians could live, hunt, and fish. And then, like many other 
governments in the Western world, the Canadians began to encourage the 
original inhabitants to move off their traditional lands into new towns, 
promising them schools, jobs on the oil rigs, homes, money, and television. 

Many native people, especially in the Norman Wells area, went into a 
kind of shock to see their land turned into oil fields, and the sudden influx 
of whites. The Indians did get some jobs on the northern oil rigs, but 
mostly as sweepers, waste-disposal workers, and security guards; they 
were first to be laid off when cutbacks were made. As with other tribal 
peoples in similar circumstances, the Dene and Inuit found themselves 
coping with growing alcoholism and family violence. Before long an active 
resistance began, led by the elders, including some who had been parties 
to the treaties decades before. They insisted that the Canadians did not 
own the land and could not make development leases for it, or control 
hunting or fishing. The Dene began to organize, although it meant mak- 
ing some painful changes in the traditional way they had organized their 
activities in the past. 

Like their cousins the Navajo (Dineh), and the Apache, the Dene tra- 
ditionally had not had any sort of centralized political structure. They 
lived in small, seminomadic bands comprised of a few families who did 
all things collectively. There were no chiefs or "head men." Authority 
within a band was fluid, moving among individuals according to the task 
at hand. When it was caribou-hunting time, those with the greatest skill 
at hunting would assume temporary authority. When there were com- 
munity problems, someone skilled in relationships would rise to leader- 
ship. This process has kept them going for 20,000 years. 

When the Canadians showed up wanting to make a treaty with some- 
body, they couldn't find any authoritative body to negotiate with. They 
literally had to solicit Dene from the various bands who were willing to 
discuss some sort of treaty, and eventually gathered a group together. An 
artificial Dene "government" was formed by this process, as was happen- 
ing in the U.S. interaction with the Navajo 3,000 miles to the south at this 
very same time. (See Chapter 15.) Once the treaty was made, the Dene 
"government" disbanded and the Indians merged back into the land as 
before. But by the 1960s, with the Canadians asserting more authority in 
the region, the Dene understood that some sort of unified action was 
needed. The Canadians, operating with the mobility and communication 
tools of an advanced industrial society, were able to act simultaneously in 



many of the autonomous Indian communities. The traditional Dene 
structure, which maintained power in the family and the nomadic band, 
could not cope effectively with such a focused force. 

After several years of heart-wrenching debate, the Dene finally decided 
to make a historic break with the past and create the first central Dene 
government in 1970. At first called the Indian Brotherhood of the North- 
west Territories, it became the Dene Nation, with offices in Yellowknife, 
one block from the Canadian government building. Each of the twenty- 
six communities chose representatives to regularly convene in Yellow- 
knife. The first act of the Dene was to hire attorneys to pursue aboriginal 
rights of ownership of the Mackenzie Valley region. Amazingly, they met 
with success. 

In 1973, Justice William G. Morrow of the Supreme Court of the 
Northwest Territories ruled that sufficient evidence showed that the na- 
tives either were not told or did not understand what was in the English 
version of the treaties. Justice Morrow also cited evidence that many of the 
signatures on the treaties were forgeries. He ruled that since "there is suf- 
ficient doubt on the facts that aboriginal title was extinguished," the na- 
tives were well advised to put forward a legal claim to ownership of about 
450,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories. 

The Canadian government, meanwhile, for all its enlightened Indian 
policies, desperately sought loopholes in the court s decision. The problem 
was serious in that Canada had already made leases for oil exploration and 
drilling and preliminary work for the Mackenzie pipeline. The Indian op- 
position was profoundly inconvenient. Finally, however, the government 
recognized that it would be necessary to negotiate. 

The Canadians attempted to limit the talks to one question: How much 
money is owed the Indians for the loss of their land? The Indians, mean- 
while, said they had not lost their land and would not sell it; they only 
sought affirmation of their ownership. The ultimate outcome of the talks 
would determine who regulates and controls the oil, and whether or not 
the native political economy would be saved. 

When the negotiations dragged on, the native people felt strongly 
enough to escalate the stakes, and sought a settlement that would divide 
the Northwest Territories into two autonomous provinces. One would be 
for the Dene and the Metis, called Denendeh; the other would be for the 
Inuit, called Nunavut. The line of demarcation between them would 
roughly be the tree line. Both provinces would remain part of Canada, 
governed by the native majority within each, using traditional political 
and economic principles, cultural values, and language. (I will discuss 
these negotiations further in Chapter 20.) Meanwhile, the Dene and the 

television: the case OF THE DENE INDIANS 


Inuit have instituted new cultural and economic programs within their 
own communities, leading to the workshops concerning television. 


I traveled to Yellowknife in October. It's a three-hour plane ride due 
north from Edmonton, Alberta, including stops at two native communi- 
ties along the way, Fort Smith and Hay River. The plane flew low over the 
terrain, which seemed an endless expanse of tiny lakes, granite boulders, 
and forests. There was already snow on the ground. 

Between sessions of staring out the window, I read the Toronto Globe 
and Mail, which had a front page report on the U.S. Environmental Pro- 
tection Agency prediction that the "greenhouse effect" would soon be felt 
throughout the world. The newspaper included maps of the Canadian 
north, which would experience a significant warming. New vegetation, 
foreign to the region, would flourish. 

I was met at the Yellowknife airport by Cindy Gilday, the Dene woman 
who had contacted me on behalf of the Native Women's Association. I 
had met Gilday once before, in Washington D.C., at a conference con- 
cerned with creating a pan-Indian network of western hemisphere tribal 
peoples, to resist multinational corporate activity on Indian lands. The 
conference had been sponsored by Ralph Nader's organization, the Multi- 
National Monitor, as well as the Anthropology Resource Center and the 
Indian Law Resource Center in D.C. Gilday had been one of about a 
dozen Dene and Inuit in attendance. 

"Hey, you brought the California weather with you, the temperature's 
up over zero today," she said. She spotted my newspaper with the "green- 
house effect" headline and told me that everybody in the north was really 
having a good time with the story. "People are hoping we'll have palm 
trees and beaches. Some guys are planning to grow bananas, but what are 
we going to do with all the mukluks?" 

We had a few hours before the first workshop began, so Gilday drove 
me around Yellowknife. The town rises on the northern shores of the 
Great Slave Lake, a gigantic expanse comparable to the Great Lakes. On 
this day, overcast and (to me) very cold, the lake had the color of slate. 
Yellowknife has some older buildings dating back to the gold-mining days 
of the 1930s, but at the time of this visit it was mostly a community of 
small, government-built wooden houses not unlike a middle-class subur- 
ban tract. Right in the center of town is the government office and court- 
house building, with an exterior of a ribbed aluminum alloy that looked 


to me like a square washboard. "We call it the sardine can," said Gilday. 
Then she pointed to the roof. There, looking down on the town, was a 
row of gigantic ravens. When they flew off, their wing span was at least 
tour feet. "Those aren't even big ones," Gilday said. I soon noticed that 
these huge ravens were perched on windowsills and roofs all over town. 

Gilday checked me into the Yellowknife Inn, in the heart of downtown. 
It had the shabby look of many modern buildings, designed for more 
southern climates; after a few years they become very worn at the edges. 

Gilday suggested we go to the hotel coffee shop. "It's the main hangout 
for Indians in town," she said. "If you sit here for half a day, you'll see just 
about everybody." 

Gilday started telling me how she'd been enthusiastic at first about the 
arrival of television in the North. She explained that there was no effective, 
quick means of communication among Dene communities, which are 
often hundreds — and in a few cases more than a thousand — miles from 
each other. Except for the area directly surrounding Yellowknife, there 
aren't any roads into the bush; only airplanes, radio, and dog team. "Until 
recently," she said, "it didn't really matter. Most of those communities have 
been self-sufficient for centuries, but now that the government is out there 
changing everything so fast, people in the communities need to find out 
what's going on everywhere else." 

Television seemed to be a logical way of easing the problem, but thus 
far it hasn't done so. In the communities that did accept television, 60 per- 
cent of the programs were from the United States, including "Dallas," 
"Edge of Night," "Happy Days," "The Six Million Dollar Man," and oth- 
ers, with the remainder coming from Ottawa and Toronto. "We're not 
getting any chance to deal with our own problems on TV," Gilday told 
me. "There's only one hour each week of locally produced programming 
in the Northwest Territories, and only occasionally does that include 
any Indians or Inuit, even though we are the majority population around 

"Yellowknife, the capital and the most 'Canadian' of the cities in the 
north, was the first community to get TV. We can already see that it's had 
a devastating effect on the people here. Out in the Indian communities in 
the bush, where maybe it came only a year or two ago, it's even worse. 
People are sitting in their log houses, alongside frozen lakes with dog 
teams tied up outside, watching a bunch of white people in Dallas stand- 
ing around their swimming pools, drinking martinis and plotting to de- 
stroy each other or steal from each other, or to get their friends' wives into 
bed. Then after that they see a show that is about a man turning into a 

television: the case OF THE DENE INDIANS 


"The effect has been to glamorize behaviors and values that are poison- 
ous to life up here. Our traditions have a lot to do with survival. Cooper- 
ation, sharing, and nonmaterialism are the only ways that people can live 
here," she told me. "TV always seems to present values opposite to those. 

"I used to be a schoolteacher and when TV came to the villages I saw 
an immediate change. People lost interest in the native stories, legends, and 
languages, which are really important because they teach people how to 
live. And it's hurting the relationships between men and women too, and 
between the young and old. We used to honor our old people and listen to 
them," Gilday said, "but that's changing fast. TV makes it seem like the 
young people are all that's important and the old have nothing to say. 

"And, you know, TV has been confusing the Indian people who've 
never seen anything like it before. For example, I heard of one old woman 
who prays every night for the people in the soap operas. She thinks they're 
real. We are all getting pretty scared, especially the women who have tra- 
ditionally kept the family life together and made sure the culture was in- 
tact. But what really put the women over the edge about TV was the news 
that soon the Playboy Channel would be available in the north. The Native 
Women's Association became really active after that. Violence has in- 
creased here since the oil companies showed up and a lot of the men gave 
up trapping and hunting and started working for wages. They move into 
those work camps and start spending their money on alcohol and then 
when they get home they continue drinking and beating up on people. 
That sort of thing seldom happened before. The women expect things to 
get a lot worse with that Playboy Channel. 

"You have to realize," Gilday continued, "that most people still live in 
extended families here. Ten people might live in a one- or two-room 
house. The TV is going all the time and the little kids and the old people 
and everyone are all sitting there together watching it. Now they'll all be 
seeing men beating up naked women. It's so crazy and so awful. Nobody 
ever told us that all this would be coming in with television. It's like some 
kind of invasion from outer space or something. First it was the govern- 
ment, then those oil companies, and now it's TV." 

Gilday told me that while I was in Yellowknife I was to speak with two 
groups of native people. First, the Native Women's Association, and then, 
the next day, I would give a workshop at the offices of the Dene Nation. 
That would be for about fifty people who were responsible for various 
community programs: language preservation, community education, 
training in traditional skills, communications, alcohol and suicide preven- 
tion, and so on. In the days following, I would also be going to two outlying 
communities, Rae and Edzo, where I would speak with school kids. 



• • • 

The Native Women's Association met in the local hall of the Veterans of 
Foreign Wars. There were about seventy-five women in the room, most 
of them from outlying communities as far away as Tuktoyaktuk, about 
1,500 miles north. The age spread was very even; about an equal number 
of young and old, and quite a few very old women. I discovered after my 
talk was over that many of the old women did not speak English. Im- 
mediately after my speech, these women gathered in a circle while one of 
the younger women gave a lengthy account of what had been said. 

My intention with the speech was to create an agenda that could pro- 
vide the basis for the series of workshops the Dene planned in the next few 
days, and for later workshops out in the communities. I raised a series of 
questions divided into a few categories, roughly as follows: 

• Family Life: Have Dene family and social relationships changed since 
the introduction of television? What sorts of traditional family and com- 
munity activities are being sacrificed? Are people following the prior 
patterns of visiting, working together, gathering in groups, and talking? 
Are the changes good? 

• Political Power: How has television affected the Dene effort to wrest po- 
litical power back from the Canadians? What are the political conse- 
quences of a one-way information flow, from Ottawa, New York, and 
Los Angeles, into the Mackenzie Valley? What bearing will this have on 
regional autonomy, and resistance to oil development? 

• Dene and Inuit Culture: Has television had an effect on native culture? 
If so, on which aspects? Respect for elders? Attitudes about property 
and land ownership? A sense of community? A sense of cultural wor- 
thiness? Does television leave the native people feeling better or worse 
about themselves? 

• Views of the Natural World: How will television influence the native 
system of perception and values concerning animals, the land, and the 
human relationship to the environment? How will television affect at- 
titudes that are crucial for survival in the North? 

• Commercialism: How will the onslaught of commercials affect a culture 
that until very recently was not part of a money economy but was based 
on barter and sharing? Will the Indians be susceptible to the value sys- 
tems in advertising? 

• Language: How will television affect the desire to learn the native lan- 
guages, as well as the stories and myths that have guided northern cul- 

television: the case of the dene Indians 

ture? Will English seem more glamorous? Will the mythic heroes for 
the Indians become those created in Los Angeles? 

• Images of the Indian: How will Indians be shown on television? The 
urban drunk? The noble savage? Cowboys and Indians? How will the 
relative absence of Indians on television affect native viewers, and chil- 
dren in particular? How will this affect people's sense of self-worth? 

• Effects on Learning: If TV is a useful educational instrument, what sort 
of education does it deliver? How does that mode of education affect 
Indian kids? What prior modes of learning are being lost? What is the 

I concluded with some comments about the manner in which television 
is usually introduced into cultures, and by whom. The people who intro- 
duce television, I said, are ordinarily the people who benefit: manufactur- 
ers, advertisers, and governments who understand that television is an 
opportunity to reach more minds much more efficiently. They don't say 
anything negative about it. They only praise its benefits. But once in- 
stalled, TV is difficult to get rid of. In the United States, for example, tele- 
vision is barely one generation old and yet it is in virtually every home. 
Watching television has become the main thing Americans do with their 
lives. It has enveloped the culture, and yet it's only about forty years old. 
What is needed, I concluded, is the ability to understand the benefits and 
drawbacks of new technologies before they overtake us. In the North there 
is still time to engage in this discussion. 

Before I had begun talking, Cindy Gilday had warned me not to expect 
much of an audience reaction. "Don't expect anyone to ask you questions 
or to make any comments today," she said. "They'll be too shy with a white 
speaker. But they'll think about it and tomorrow, in the workshop, they'll 
probably have a lot to say." That proved true. I had never given a speech 
met by such silence, though there was applause at the end. 

The next day, things were different. The group was smaller and Cindy 
Gilday asked each person to give a brief report on their feelings and ob- 
servations about television. 


Joanne Barnaby, communications department, Dene Nation: 

Some of the questions you raise have been raised already in the com- 
munities. For example, in Fort Good Hope, television came in six 



months ago. Every year before that the CBC [Canadian Broadcast 
Company] would come around to the village and say, "Well, you 
people want TV now?" and every year the people would say, "No." 
Six months later, the CBC would come around again and ask the 
same question. The reason people were against TV was that they 
heard from other communities how people weren't visiting each 
other anymore, and that the children were being influenced by it. It 
was hard to get the kids to do anything. The women weren't sewing 
anymore, either, and the woodpiles were too low. But last summer 
CBC showed up again at a meeting where there were only two or 
three people. One person said, "Well, okay, let's have TV," and an- 
other one said, "Okay" and right away, very fast, CBC installed the 
satellite dishes. The people were in an uproar because they felt they 
weren't really consulted. But CBC told them if they took down the 
facilities now, then Good Hope could never again get them back. It 
was real pressure. The people finally voted to leave it there, but only 
by a one-vote majority. You can already see the difference. 

Dene language instructor: 

Nobody in Fort Franklin wanted TV either, but after a while people 
got in the habit of going over to the next village, Norman Wells, to 
watch the hockey games. That got it started. It's created a lot of prob- 
lems. Franklin is a community where everyone speaks Slavey [one 
of twenty-two Dene languages] as a first language, and we were 
teaching English as a second language. But the English they're get- 
ting from TV is slang English, and they want to know why we don't 
teach them that. Another problem is that parents don't control the 
TV, so the kids stay up all night watching it and they're exhausted 
the next day. They keep falling asleep in school. 

Barbara Smith, nutrition educator and writer: 

I've got four kids and we used to live on the land. When we first 
came into town, the kids didn't like TV. They were scared of it. They 
wondered why that man on the TV was staring at them. But it didn't 
take them too long to get hooked on cartoons. I think if kids don't 
have TV in their childhood, then they're more creative later. But 
even my kids have been affected by it. A lot of the images they have 
in their heads now are TV images, like especially the people in "Fall 
Guy." I know a lot of kids who don't play at all anymore because 
they'd rather watch TV. It's easier than playing or reading. It's not 
enough to say that parents ought to turn the thing off because the 

television: the case of the pene Indians 

kids can then watch at the neighbors' or in school. TV has more in- 
fluence than parents do. 

Mary Wilson (sixty-five years old), Slavey translator: 

I was thinking how lucky I am that I brought up my children when 
there was no TV and no things to worry about, like sniffing glue and 
alcohol. I had a hard struggle to keep life together, but if I'd have 
had all these worries I don't know how I would have coped. At one 
time the women used to sit around all the time and talk about things 
and be sewing and competing to see whose husband was going to be 
the best dressed, but now they don't do that. The women are so in- 
volved in this soap opera thing. They even phone each other about 
what happened on the show. 

Ethel Blondin, Department of Education, Government of the Northwest 
Territories (now a Member of Parliament): 

I'm working with languages too, and I have mixed feelings about 
what you say. When we first got TV up at Tuktoyaktuk in the mid- 
1970s, I felt suddenly I had to be an entertainer to compete with it. 
I really couldn't compete with that kind of sexual image they put on 
TV. But I have a certain zest for life, which those TV characters 
don't have. I think the kids understood that. But one time I got to 
use TV to teach native languages. When I had control of it, I think 
it worked out okay. But it does affect family life. I know I have to 
supervise the way my kids use it. They have to turn it off when I say 
so. It all depends on the strength of the family unit, I think. 

Cindy Gilday: 

When TV first came to Rae, I was working there as a teacher. The 
social relationships of the people and the language and learning of 
the kids changed overnight. What they started learning best was all 
the stuff that's in those commercials from white society. But I would 
really like to know is what it is about TV that causes the addiction? 
I know something happens to me when I watch TV. I get glued to 
it, even if its something like soap operas with those kinds of values. 
I wish I could figure out what keeps people watching because then 
maybe we could create a Dene soap opera. Could we ever get the 
kind of money they use on "Dallas" to put out our ideas of Dene 

(The question of creating an Indian soap opera kept coming up. It was 
observed that the behaviors that create interest in the soaps were problem 



behaviors, such as adultery, emotional problems, lying, and scheming. To 
show Dene people engaged in those behaviors was not going to do the 
Dene any good. Also the rhythms of the soaps — a major crisis once or 
twice in every program — were different from the rhythms of life in the 
North, where events are very slow. "Would anyone want to watch a show 
about women sitting and sewing mukluks for hours, or hanging fish in 
the smokehouse?" one woman asked.) 

Ernie Lennie, education coordinator, Dene Nation: 

The type of learning we get in school and also on TV is the type of 
learning where we just sit and absorb. But in family life it s a differ- 
ent kind of learning. Children learn directly from their parents. 
That is the native way of teaching. Learning has to come from doing, 
not intellectualizing. A long time ago they only taught people by 
doing things, but now they just sit and watch TV. Taking away TV 
is like taking away a bottle of alcohol. 

Barbara Smith: 

There's an ancient native concept that words have power. So if you're 
putting a lot of energy into watching soaps, then you're concentrat- 
ing your energy in a negative way. Pretty soon people who watch 
those shows start having problems like the people on the soaps. I 
know a lot of people who seem real negatively affected by TV. 

Irene Bjornson, court reporter: 

When I was living in southern Alberta, I used to watch TV so much. 
And because my town was in a later time zone, my friends used to 
call me to find out what happened on the shows before they were 
shown. I would buy food that was very easy so it wouldn't get in the 
way of watching TV. I learned a lot from TV and I learned a lot 
from white society too, but all that time I didn't learn anything about 
myself. I didn't like being a Dene. When I went to school I learned 
English and French and they told me it was stupid to speak Dene. 
Now, my husband is white and my husband's family doesn't like In- 
dians. All they saw about Indians was those drunks they saw on TV 
and that's how they judged me. But now I really speak my mind and 
believe in myself. I hardly watch TV anymore. But I've got a six- 
year-old daughter who's going on sixteen because she watches so 
much TV. 

television: the case OF THE DENE INDIANS 


Ethel Lamsthe, community development worker: 

Those stereotypes on TV really twist people. The way they show 
what a terrific thing it is to have a drink. Their lifestyles are so dif- 
ferent. How does that make you feel about yourself? Every com- 
munity now has got those VCRs. I try to get people to talk, but they 
don't want to anymore. They just sit and watch. 


One of the most intense discussions of the day concerned TV's impact 
on traditional storytelling practices. For centuries it had been part of Dene 
family life for the grandparents to tell tales to the kids for several hours 
each night before bedtime. With television, storytelling has virtually 
stopped. Meanwhile, many storytellers are dying off without passing along 
their skills. One suggestion was that perhaps TV could now be used to 
convey the stories. 

Cindy Gilday: 

When I was a kid we were told the same stories over and over again, 
and then we'd ask for it to be told one more time. Every mother and 
grandmother would be into it. And everyone would tell the story 
slightly different. We wanted those stories so much we'd scheme so 
that maybe we could hear some story for the thousandth time. 

Cindy's friend: 

Some of the old people were so good at storytelling. They had a 
breadth and level of language that my generation doesn't have any- 
more. When we talk about maintaining the legends we also have to 
talk about the level of language. If I was going to try to become a 
storyteller, I'd have to go back and live with the old people and eat 
and sleep with them and practice those stories over and over, because 
each time you hear those stories you hear something new in them. 

Man from audience: 

It was such a refined art. They projected the stories in their bodies, 
not only in their words. There is both a conscious and a subconscious 
level in storytelling. Something will really be lost if we try to portray 
those stories on TV. 



Barbara Smith: 

Legends are tools that help people grow in certain ways. A lot of 
what matters is the power and the feeling of the experience. It's like 
when you're tanning hides, it's not only important to learn how to 
do the scraping and the cutting. In the old way, the process was also 
a kind of meditation, a prayer to help put power into it. There used 
to be prayers for how to grind the corn. It wasn't just grinding corn, 
it was also the feeling in it. But when you put something in a mu- 
seum, or even on TV, you can see it all right, but you're really looking 
only at the shell. 

I had been listening silently to most of the discussion up to this point, but 
I could not contain my desire to discourage the use of video for re-creating 
the legends and stories. It would not, I argued, be an adequate substitute. 
In the old way, when elders told stories to the young, the subtle dimensions 
were probably more important than the content of the stories. Sitting to- 
gether on quiet, dark evenings, kids and grandparents huddled near a fire, 
the old people themselves became a kind of window through which to see 
thousands of years back into time, back to the sources of the Indian ex- 
perience. Tremendous admiration, affection, respect, and love was mu- 
tually engendered by this tradition. Its continuation was critical to the 
Indian sense of self-respect and identity. 

The stories also embodied a teaching system. The old transmit to the 
young their knowledge of how things are, in such a loving way that the 
children absorb it whole and request more. The death of the storytelling 
process will leave an absence of knowledge of Indian ways and thought, 
and a sense of worth in Indian culture. 

Another important factor is that the images woven by the storyteller are 
actually realized in the listeners' minds. The children create pictures in 
their heads, pictures that go far beyond the words of the storyteller, into 
the more elaborate, more fabulous world of the imagination. So the child 
is in some ways as creative as the teller of the tale, or put another way, the 
storyteller is only a stimulus for the imagination of the child. If the stories 
were conveyed by video, not only would the intimacy, love, and respect 
between young and old be lost, but the child's creative contributions would 
be lost as well. Finally, I said, video versions of the stories would be nec- 
essarily limited by the abilities and budget of the video makers. Even the 
most talented video makers would find it impossible to equal what the 
imagination does with a story told orally. So the net result of translating 



stories to television would be to confine, and actually lessen, their power, 
meaning, and beauty. Audio tape or radio would be far better. 

I recalled an experience I'd had many years earlier while interviewing 
John Mohawk, a Seneca Indian who was then editor of Af{wesasne Notes, 
the largest Indian newspaper in North America. I had spent several days 
with John and used a tape recorder to record his views on various Indian 
political and social matters. I had asked him about the stories that influ- 
enced him as a child, and he resisted telling me. One time, however, on a 
five-hour drive from northern New York State to Syracuse, he agreed to 
tell me some stories, but only if I switched off the tape recorder. When I 
asked him why, he said, "First of all I'm not supposed to be telling you this 
story at all. Secondly, if you have the machine going, or if you're taking 
notes, you won't understand the story. It depends on your listening with 
your heart. That won't come out on a machine." 

Similarly, putting the stories on TV would reduce their evocative 
power, narrow their content, and destroy the interchange between the 
young and old. Kids who heard their stories in that way would have a 
"cold" memory of Indian stories. The warmth of feeling for the stories 
described by the Dene at the workshop would be lost, and with it an im- 
portant piece of the culture's vitality. 


The Dene villages of Rae and Edzo are located just above the northern 
finger of the Great Slave Lake, on opposite sides of another small lake, 
Lake Marion, which in October was already frozen solid. The highway to 
these towns runs northwest from Yellowknife along the shores of the 
Great Slave Lake. It is the only road out of the capital city of the North- 
west Territories, but it is actually little more than a bulldozed dirt track 
with huge patches of ice and snow, and falloffs on either side. Making it 
still more hazardous are the occasional lumber trucks barreling along as 
if it were the New Jersey Turnpike. 

The land is nearly flat, though the huge granite boulders sprinkled over 
the landscape and the countless small, bright blue lakes give the terrain a 
kind of harsh, brilliant appeal. 

Soon after arriving in Rae, I was thrilled to get my first sight of dog 
teams. They were out on the lake lying alongside the ice holes, where the 
men had dropped their nets. 

Most of the houses were built with stripped logs, in the traditional Dene 
manner, but tarpaper houses were not unusual. Every house had a small 

II 4 


smokehouse adjoining it, where fish, caribou, and moose were smoked 
throughout the year. More dog teams were tied up nearby, and many of 
the houses had rifles outside, leaning against the front-door sash. 

Our first official stop was at a new, modern school, typical of the sort 
found in American suburbs. Gilday told me that she taught at this school 
before she got married and moved down to Yellowknife. She was greeted 
warmly, and we were taken to a windowless amphitheatre. Four classes 
had been combined for our visit, about sixty kids in all, ages twelve (or so) 
to sixteen. There was a TV set in the room, which I had requested. 

I began by asking the kids about their TV viewing habits. I learned that 
though TV had come to Rae only two years before, every home now had 
one. About 90 percent of the homes also had VCRs. There was unanimous 
agreement that the TV sets remained turned on in the homes virtually all 
of the time. Since most of the families lived in one- or two-room houses, 
all ages were watching TV until very late at night. I asked how many of 
the children had parents who attempted to control the viewing by setting 
times or selecting programs, or by turning it off altogether at a certain 
hour. Only two kids raised their hands. I asked how many of their families 
were still telling stories at night. There was no response. Television had 
apparendy taken over in Rae, suddenly and totally. 

My final question was whether or not they believed that what they saw 
in TV shows like "Dallas" or "Happy Days" was "real." About two-thirds 
of the children said they felt it was. 

At this point we had been talking for about five minutes, but there were 
already signs of restlessness in the room. I decided to turn on the TV. My 
goal was to accomplish at least one thing: to instill in at least a few of the 
kids a way of viewing television images with less passive acceptance. I 
wanted to convey that the images are artificial constructs. 

After turning on the television I explained what a "technical event" is 
and asked the children to count them in the images on the screen. They 
did so with enthusiasm. My hope was that these kids would find them- 
selves continuing to count the technical events at home. Perhaps it would 
create a degree of resistance to unconscious immersion in the television 

Within about half an hour the students were restless again. At that 
point Cindy Gilday stepped forward and passionately implored the kids 
to be aware of how the TV shows were affecting their attitudes and be- 
havior. "Seeing those shows from the United States, with all that drinking 
in them, where all everybody wants is more money and more cars, has 
nothing to do with life here," she said. "You're being colonized by that, 

television: the case OF THE DENE INDIANS 


except that it's happening right in your heads. First it was the British, then 
it was the Canadians, then it was the oil companies, and now it's the TV." 
I had the feeling she got through to a few of the young people, especially 
some of the girls who seemed fixed to her every word. But mostly I came 
away impressed by the added power television has when introduced into 
a nearly "virgin" community. 

After we had finished, several teachers said that the session had been 
useful, if only to have brought up the problem. The teachers felt that TV 
was a gigantic, though unobserved, problem in the school. They felt that 
they had to become performers, fast and sexy, in order to keep the kids' 
attention. The children had just about given up reading; their attention 
span seemed much shorter than only a few years ago; they were behaving 
in a much more aggressive manner; and their interest in speaking the local 
Dene tongue was fast disappearing. The teachers hoped that we would 
come back sometime, they said. Meanwhile they would try to find a way 
of discussing these questions with the students. 

Next we went to Edzo, about ten miles around Lake Marion, to a spe- 
cial school for young people who, for one reason or another, had not pre- 
viously been in school. Some of them were in their early twenties, but most 
were in their late teens. Some came from communities where there hadn't 
been schools; others just hadn't attended. 

Whereas the younger kids in Rae had been restless and hyper, this 
group of about twenty young people were silent, passive, sullen. The TV 
set in this room was broken, so after asking them the same set of questions 
that I had asked the group in Rae, I had no technical crutch to help engage 
their attention. Gilday and I tried to start a discussion about what they 
liked and didn't like on TV, and how their ideas and desires were being 
changed by it. They said they liked all TV. I had the feeling Gilday and I 
both seemed absurd to them. 

On the long drive back to Yellowknife, we were accompanied by a 
young non-Indian activist. When I mentioned that I was depressed at 
what I'd just seen in the two classrooms, he said that the situation among 
young people was even worse in the more northern communities where 
the oil companies have had their greatest impact. In some places there were 
outbreaks of suicide among young people, though further south the tra- 
ditional fabric was still mostly holding together. "There is a lot of political 
activity here, and efforts to maintain the traditional ways," he said. "We've 
been trying to set up rap groups in the more impacted northern areas to 
get the young people talking to each other, letting off some of the steam — 
Indian males really keep it inside — and there's been some progress. We 



sec these kitls come and pour out their hearts to each other. It's inspira- 
tional. But things won't get really better until the Indians gain back some 
political power and control over what's going on up here." 

When we arrived back at Yellowknife, I was given a collection of pub- 
lications concerning Denendeh, the hoped-for new province of Canada 
with a mostly Dene leadership. "This is the answer for the Dene," I was 
told. "Regain political control of the region, or else the Indians will sink 
under the pressures from Canada and the U.S. The oil, the missiles, tele- 
vision; it's all part of the same assault." 

The Dene envisioned that the Denendeh economic system would em- 
phasize the traditional languages and lifestyle, based on self-sufficiency 
and renewable resources. Development projects would be judged by tra- 
ditional criteria, such as impact on the environment and impact on the 
culture, rather than on short-term economic benefits. The Dene would be 
in charge of all wildlife and wilderness management. In areas such as 
health, education, social services, the arts, media, and recreation, the Dene 
would establish their own institutions, though with the same level of sup- 
port that Canada provides for other less culturally autonomous provinces. 

The Canadian government, meanwhile, was worried that too much 
Dene economic and political control might lead to severe restrictions on 
oil development. 

The Dene had already created a cultural awareness program, hoping to 
psychologically arm the people against the Canadian culture. Aside from 
the communications project, of which the television workshop was part, 
each community had created programs in the following areas: Dene as a 
first language; oral histories with elders describing traditional values; pro- 
grams on how to live off the land in summer and winter; and training in 
traditional music and storytelling. Summer camps had been set up, run by 
the elders to give training in wilderness survival, snare setting, catching, 
cleaning, drying, and cutting fish; skinning animals, and animal behavior, 
as well as hand games, songs, and chants. The Dene were also promoting 
interest in new economic ventures that would not threaten Dene com- 
munity life, such as outfitting and guiding hunters, boat building, aqua- 
culture, domestication of wild game, and small-scale tourism. 


During my last few days in Yellowknife I had time to visit with an old 
colleague from decades earlier, Marie-Helene Laraque. While living in 
Berkeley, California, she had been the editor of the first bilingual pan- 

television: the case OF THE DENE INDIANS 


Indian newspaper, Indigena, which concerned itself with the problems of 
native people throughout the Americas and the need to establish contacts 
between them. 

Laraque" was born in Haiti of mixed racial ancestry, but she identifies 
most strongly with her Arawak Indian heritage. (Few people are aware 
that Haiti had an Indian population before the arrival of Westerners.) 
Through her work, she met and later married one of the Dene chiefs from 
the community of Fort Smith. There, Laraque gave birth to two children 
and became active in the movement to block a dam on the Slave River, 
which would have- destroyed a vast Dene hunting and fishing ground. 
(The power from the dam was to be shipped to the cities of the South.) 
When the marriage ended in 1980, Laraque took her children north to 
Yellowknife, and recently remarried. For a while she was the editor of the 
Dene Nation Newsletter, which recently ceased publication. "I was really 
sorry that publication stopped," she told me. "It was a way of keeping the 
Dene communities informed without them having to buy TV sets, which 
don't carry Dene news anyway. Also, we sent the paper to all of the other 
Indian tribes in North America, and I still feel that communication among 
the tribes is very important." 

I asked Marie-Helene how she, a Haitian by birth and for most of her 
life an urban dweller, could survive in the harsh environment of the far 
north. "I stay here," she said, "because this is where my children were born, 
and they are Dene. I want them to grow up as Indians, and there's no way 
that could happen in New York or San Francisco, and there's no way I can 
go back to Haiti. Here they're close to their grandparents and cousins. It's 
the kind of family life that I couldn't reproduce for them in the South. 
They'd drift away. And it's a good place for interracial getting along. Much 
better than anywhere I've ever known or lived. Anyway, I'm devoted to 
helping the Dene get through these times in a good way. They are really 
getting organized and they've got a chance to make it. If I can continue to 
help, I want to do that." 

That evening Marie-Helene had a party at her house, for about thirty 
people. For hours beforehand, the invited guests dropped off food: two 
wild ducks that Marie-Helene made into soup, fresh caribou and moose 
meat, two platters of bannock (a hard bread made of flour and, in this 
region, fish eggs), and, from the Great Slave Lake, fresh whitefish and 
trout much larger and oilier than any I'd ever had in the South. 

As I helped her put the food on the buffet table, I noticed that Marie- 
Helene cut a small piece from each item and placed it into a separate dish 
that was not put on the table. I asked what she was doing, but she only 
said, "I'll tell you later" 



At the party I found myself talking to a Catholic priest, Rene Fumo- 
leau, who told me that he had come to the Canadian North in 1953 from 
France and had never left. Fumoleau was the author of a definitive work 
about the treaty negotiations, As Long as This Land Shall Last, which was 
used as evidence in the Justice Morrow hearings concerning fraud in the 
treaties. "When I came here in 1953 it was really free," he said. "That's 
what I loved about it. Not much police presence. No foreign laws. The 
government left people alone. The communities were very happy with life 
in those days, much happier than now." 

Barbara Smith was there with three of her kids, and I thanked her for 
her wonderful participation in the TV workshop. Smith, who wears very 
thick glasses, had more to say: "My own relationship to TV is different 
from most people's because I am, legally speaking, a blind person. My vi- 
sion is so poor that my memory comes in sound, accompanied by blurred 
colors and shapes. I can't close my eyes and imagine my sons' faces. I've 
been trying to understand how other people are affected by images. TV is 
not really a threat to me but I realize that it's a danger to the Dene culture 
in general. The images people used to get from the old stories are just 
being blotted out. And it also affects how they live, and what they eat. I 
have been working to explain proper nutrition to people who have bought 
into the junk food from the TV. Most Dene who have moved in from the 
land to fixed communities don't eat the sort of fresh fish and meat we're 
eating tonight. Unless somebody goes out and shoots a moose or a rabbit, 
people will just go over to the grocery and buy junk. Candy, canned food. 
It's really harming people's lives and the TV is encouraging that. The kids 
used to go out on the ice and bring home fish for dinner. But now they're 
all indoors watching TV, which is telling them to eat the junk food. They 
use their welfare checks for the groceries." 

The conversation got around to the "greenhouse effect" again, which 
usually produces laughter when it's discussed. The people in Yellowknife 
are amazed at the prospect that their world could be unalterably changed 
because of pollution in the South. And then there's talk of the cruise mis- 
sile test-flights that the U.S. is now doing. Despite Dene opposition, the 
Canadian government granted permission to the United States to fly mis- 
siles at low altitude all the way down the Mackenzie Valley, some 1,500 
miles to Alberta. "Seems like you people are always wanting to drop things 
on somebody," someone jokingly said to me. 

At the end of the evening I helped Marie-Helene clean up the dishes. 
She had already divided the edible leftovers among the guests. The ban- 
nock went home with this one, the caribou meat with that one. I asked her 
again about the little dish in which she had placed small cuttings from 

television: the case OF THE DENE INDIANS 


each course. She told me that many native people traditionally make of- 
ferings of part of their meal. "What I do at the end of the evening," she 
said, "is add those cuttings to a bowl of table scraps and put them all out- 
side for the ravens." I watched her as she went out into the night and 
climbed a small, snowy hill behind the house, put the dish down, and then 
stood there for a few moments. When she came back into the house, she 
said, "In five minutes the bowl will be empty." 



The great French philosopher and technology critic Jacques Ellul 
makes it one of his central points that evaluations of technology must 
not be confined to the machines themselves. Equally important, he says, is 
to grasp that in technological society, the structure of all of human life and 
its systems of organization reflect the logic of the machine. All are encom- 
passed by Ellul within the single term technique, which suggests that in 
contemporary society, human behavior, human thought, and human polit- 
ical and economic structures are part of a seamless fabric inseparable from 
machines. Technique is machine logic extended to all human endeavors. 

This point is most easily understood when we think about our rela- 
tionship to the assembly line, or to the automobile or the clock; how we 
tune in to and reflect the characteristics of those machines. Those exam- 
ples suggest a human-machine symbiosis that alters both sides of the 
connection, as part of a long, back-and-forth process of merging, or 

But technique is also apparent in the modes of organization that tend 
to gain favor in technological society. This will be dealt with more thor- 
oughly in Part III, when we compare technological and native societies. 
This chapter, however, will focus on one particular organizational mode, 
a very dominant mode in our society — the corporation. The corporation 
is not as subject to human control as most people believe it is; rather, it is 
an autonomous technical structure that behaves by a system of logic 
uniquely well suited to its primary function: to give birth and impetus to 
profitable new technological forms, and to spread techno-logic around the 



• • • 

Given the extent to which corporations affect both technical change and 
the forces of nature, it is surprising how little attention we give them. It's 
not that we are entirely unaware of them; we hear their names trumpeted 
and flashed at us whichever way we turn. But most of us accept their ex- 
istence unquestioningly, unconsciously, like background noise. We don't 
focus on them as the primary players they are, and we have very little un- 
derstanding of why they behave as they do. 

We usually become aware of corporate behavior only when a flagrant 
transgression is reported in the news: the dumping of toxic wastes, the 
releasing of pollutants, the suppression of research regarding health ef- 
fects of various products, the tragic mechanical breakdowns such as at 
Three Mile Island, in Bhopal, or in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Some- 
times we become concerned about a large corporation closing a factory, 
putting 5,000 people out of work, and moving to another country. 

Even when we hear such news, our tendency is to respond as if the be- 
haviors described stem from the people within the corporate structure — 
people who are irresponsible, dishonest, greedy, or overly ambitious. Or 
else we attribute the problem to the moral decline of the times we live in, 
or to the failure of the regulatory process. 

Seeing corporate behavior as rooted in the people who work within 
them is like believing that the problems of television are attributable solely 
to its program content. With corporations, as with television, the basic 
problems are actually structural. They are problems inherent in the forms 
and rules by which these entities are compelled to operate. If the problems 
could be traced to the personnel involved, they could be solved by chang- 
ing the personnel. Unfortunately, however, all employees are obliged to 
act in concert, to behave in accordance with corporate form and corporate 
law. If someone attempted to revolt against these tenets, it would only re- 
sult in the corporation throwing the person out, and replacing that person 
with another who would act according to the rules. Form determines con- 
tent. Corporations are machines. 

The failure to grasp the nature and inevitabilities of corporate structure 
has left our society far too unconscious and passive to corporate desires, 
and has helped corporations increase their influence, power, and freedom 
from accountability. Corporations already influence our conceptions of 
how life should be lived more than any other institution, including gov- 
ernment. Corporate ideology, corporate priorities, corporate styles of be- 



havior, corporate value systems, and corporate modes of organization have 
become synonymous with "our way of life." Corporate "culture" has be- 
come the virtual definition of American life, to be defended at all costs, 
even militarily. When Secretary of State George Schultz said in 1985 that 
in Nicaragua and El Salvador "we are fighting for our way of life," it was 
the threat of collectivism to free enterprise and commodity culture that 
motivated his remarks. Conversely, when our leaders celebrate the new 
"freedom" of Eastern Europe, they are really celebrating free enterprise 
and the market economy. 

Living in the United States today, there is scarcely a moment when you 
are not in contact with a corporation, or its manifestation. 

It is very likely that you work for a corporation. If so, your daily sched- 
ule is determined by corporate needs. You dress and behave according to 
corporate concepts, you interact with the machines by which corporations 
accomplish their tasks — computers, typewriters, telephones, fax ma- 
chines, copiers. You spend your day living within corporate rhythms. 

The building you live in was probably created by a corporation, as were 
your furniture, appliances, the clothes in your closet, your perfume — all 
the result of corporate concepts and action. 

Taken as a group, corporations are the largest landowners in the United 
States, with the exception of the federal government. Corporations are also 
the major financial backers of electoral campaigns, and the major lobbyists 
for laws that benefit corporate goals. 

If you switch on your radio or television, or open your newspaper, cor- 
porations speak to you. They do it through public relations and through 
advertising. American corporations spend more than $100 billion yearly 
on advertising, which is far more than is spent on all secondary education 
in this country. In some ways corporate advertising is the dominant edu- 
cation institution in our country, surely in the realm of lifestyle. 

As I mentioned in Chapter 5, the average American now views 21,000 
commercials every year. Twenty-one thousand times, corporations place 
images in your brain to suggest something great about commodities. Some 
commercials advertise cars, others advertise drugs — but all commercials 
agree that you should buy something, and that human life is most satisfying 
when inundated with commodities. Between commercials there are pro- 
grams, also created by corporations, that espouse values consistent with 
the ads. 

Corporations are also the major providers of educational materials for 
American schools. Some of the largest corporations are now providing 
books, tapes, films, and computer programs free of charge to public and 
private schools, as a "public service" in these budget-conscious times. They 



get a lot ot praise for these contributions. Oil and chemical companies have 
been particularly generous in providing materials to help explain nature 
to young people — materials that portray nature as a valuable resource for 
human use and that celebrate concepts such as "managing nature" 
through chemicals, pesticides, and large-scale agribusiness. Thus, a gen- 
eration of youngsters is trained to regard nature in a way that coincides 
with corporate objectives. They are also trained to accept corporate inter- 
pretations and perspectives from a very early age, and are thereby prepared 
for what is to come. 


I keep awaiting the day when a corporate president expresses shame for 
a corporate transgression against the public or the environment. The state- 
ment would go something like this: 

"On behalf of my company, its management, and its shareholders, I 
wish to express our grief concerning injuries suffered by people living 
downstream from our factory, along the Green River. We are ashamed to 
admit that over the years, our poisonous wastes have found their way into 
the river, putting the community in peril. We will do anything to relieve 
the suffering we have caused. We are also concerned that safe storage for 
such potent chemicals now seems impossible, and so henceforth we will 
only use our facilities for safer forms of manufacturing. Under no circum- 
stances will we give thought to abandoning this community or its 

No such statement has ever been made, nor will ever be made, by a 
publicly held corporation in America, for several reasons. 

No corporate manager could ever place community welfare above cor- 
porate interest. An individual executive might personally wish to do so, 
but to make this sort of admission would subject the company, and the 
individual, to legal action by local, state, and federal authorities, as well as 
to damage suits by victims. 

It could also open management to lawsuits from its own shareholders. 
U.S. corporate law holds that management of publicly held companies 
must act primarily in the economic interests of shareholders. If not, man- 
agement can be sued by shareholders and firings would surely occur. So 
managers are legally obliged to ignore community welfare (e.g., worker 
health and satisfaction, environmental concerns) if those needs interfere 
with profitability. And corporate managers must also deny that corporate 


acts have a negative impact of any kind, if that impact might translate into 
costly damage suits that hinder profits. 

As a result, we have witnessed countless cases in which corporate acts 
caused death or injury or illness, while the company denied any respon- 
sibility. We have heard cigarette companies deny that cigarettes are harm- 
ful. We have heard the same from manufacturers of pesticides, chemicals, 
asbestos, and birth-control technologies. 

Often, corporations are privately aware of the dangers of their products 
or processes, but withhold that information. Even as I write these words, 
a National Public Radio news program is reporting on the efforts of cer- 
tain plastic-wrapping manufacturers to conceal from the government and 
the public what their own research had told them twenty years before the 
government or public found out: The plastic wrapping on our supermar- 
ket meats, fish, and other items can leave carcinogenic residues in our food. 

In instances such as these, withholding information means that 
people — perhaps tens of thousands of people — become sick. Some people 
die. In other contexts, murder charges would be in order. 


That murder charges are not levied against corporations, and that cor- 
porations do not express shame at their own actions, is a direct result of 
the peculiar nature of corporate form, its split personality. Though human 
beings work inside corporations, a corporation is not a person, and does 
not have feelings. In most senses a corporation is not even a "thing." It may 
have offices, and/or a factory or products, but a corporation does not have 
any physical existence or form — no corporality. So when conditions in a 
community or country become unfavorable — safety standards become too 
rigid, or workers are not submissive — a corporation can dematerialize and 
then rematerialize in another town or country. 

If a corporation is not a person or a thing, what is it? It is basically a 
concept that is given a name, and a legal existence, on paper. Though there 
is no such actual creature, our laws recognize the corporation as an entity. 
So does the population. We think of corporations as having concrete form, 
but their true existence is only on paper and in our minds. 

Even more curious than a corporation's ephemeral quality is that our 
laws give this nonexistent entity a great many rights similar to those given 
to human beings. The law calls corporations "fictitious persons," with the 
right to buy and sell property, or to sue in court for injuries or for slander 
and libel. And "corporate speech" — advertising, public relations — is pro- 



tected under the First Amendment to the Constitution, governing free- 
dom of speech. This latter right has been extended to corporations despite 
the fact that when the Bill of Rights was written in 1792, corporations as 
we now know them did not exist. (The First Amendment was originally 
intended to protect personal speech, in a century when the only media con- 
sisted of single news-sheets, handbills, and books. The net result of ex- 
panding First Amendment protection to corporate speech is that $100 
billion worth of advertising from a relative handful of sources gets to 
dominate public perception, free from nearly all government attempts at 
regulation. Democracy is effectively thwarted, rather than aided.) 

Though corporations enjoy many "human" rights, they have not been 
required to abide by human responsibilities. Even in cases of negligence 
causing death or injury, the state cannot jail or execute the corporation. In 
rare instances, individuals within a corporation can be prosecuted, if they 
perpetrate acts that they know can cause injury. And a corporation may 
be fined or ordered to alter practices, but its structure is never altered, its 
"life" is never threatened. 

In fact, unlike human beings, corporations do not die a natural death. 
A corporation usually outlives the human beings who have been part of 
it, even those who "own" it. A corporation actually has the possibility of 
immortality. Of course, the owners of a corporation can put it to death 
under certain conditions, but society cannot exercise that kind of control. 

Lacking the sort of physical, organic reality that characterizes human 
existence, this entity, this concept, this collection of paperwork called a 
"corporation" is not capable of feelings such as shame or remorse. Instead, 
corporations behave according to their own unique systems of standards, 
rules, forms, and objectives. 

The most basic rule of corporate operation is that it must produce in- 
come, and (except for that special category of "nonprofit corporations") 
must show a profit over time. Among publicly held companies there is an- 
other basic rule: It must expand and grow, since growth is the standard by 
which the stock market judges a company. All other values are secondary: 
the welfare of the community, the happiness of workers, the health of the 
planet, and even the general prosperity. 

So human beings within the corporate structure, whatever their per- 
sonal morals and feelings, are prevented from operating on their own stan- 
dards. Like the assembly-line workers who must operate at the speed of 
the machine, corporate employees are strapped onto the apparatus of the 
corporation, and operate by its rules. 

In this sense a corporation is essentially a machine, a technological 
structure, an organization that follows its own principles and its own mo- 



rality, and in which human morality is anomalous. Because of this double 
standard — one for human beings and another for "fictitious persons" like 
corporations — we sometimes see bizarre behavior from executives who, 
though knowing what is right and moral, behave in a contrary fashion. 



In 1986, Union Carbide Corporation's chemical plant in Bhopal, India, 
accidentally released methyl isocynate into the air, injuring some 200,000 
people and killing more than 2,000. Soon after the accident the chairman 
of the board of Union Carbide, Warren M. Anderson, was so upset at what 
happened that he informed the media that he would spend the rest of his 
life attempting to correct the problems his company had caused and to 
make amends. Only one year later, however, Mr. Anderson was quoted in 
Business Wee\ as saying that he had "overreacted," and was now prepared 
to lead the company in its legal fight against paying damages and repara- 
tions. What happened? Very simply, Mr. Anderson at first reacted as a hu- 
man being. Later, he realized (and perhaps was pressed to realize) that this 
reaction was inappropriate for a chairman of the board of a company 
whose primary obligations are not to the poor victims of Bhopal, but to 
shareholders; that is, to its profit picture. If Mr. Anderson had persisted in 
expressing his personal feelings or acknowledging the company's culpa- 
bility, he certainly would have been fired. 

When the Exxon Valdez crashed onto a reef in 1989, and spilled its oil 
into the sea and onto the beaches of Alaska — in part because of the in- 
toxication of the ship's captain — the corporation at first reacted with apol- 
ogies, and promised to make amends: clean the water, clean the beaches, 
save the animals, pay for damages. I was surprised at the company's stance. 
It ran counter to the normal manner in which corporations react. Perhaps 
in this case the cause and effect were simply indisputable, unlike cases of 
birth malformations from herbicide spraying or injury to workers in com- 
puter manufacturing, where causes and effects are separated by many 
years. On the other hand, maybe certain top executives at Exxon were truly 
horrified and felt moved to make things right. If so, like Union Carbide's 
Anderson, they soon came to their senses. The cleanup turned out to be 
very expensive. Within six months the company ceasechall of its efforts to 
allay the effects of the spill. In a typical corporate cost-benefit approach, it 
was reasoned that fighting the lawsuits and making settlements that courts 


I2 7 

or negotiators might require would certainly be cheaper than cleaning the 

For me, the most disturbing example of corporate schizophrenia oc- 
curred in the personal context of a family event during the late 1960s. At 
the time, I was involved in efforts to retard the Manhattanization of San 
Francisco. I authored a series of ads attempting to halt the construction of 
high-rise office buildings that were increasing traffic and pollution, and 
destroying the vistas that are a big part of life in that city. Among our 
arguments was that high-rise development cost the city — in services such 
as police, fire, sewage, expanded electrical power generation, and road 
maintenance — far more than could be redeemed in property taxes. We 
had studies to prove this. 

While working on these campaigns a friend of my family's — I will call 
her Genevieve — telephoned to say that her father was in town from Chi- 
cago for a few days. She wanted to drop by with him and the kids. At that 
moment we realized that Genevieve's father was president of one of the 
largest corporate developers of skyscrapers. Several of his buildings were 
ones we were opposing. 

On a bright Sunday morning, Genevieve and her family came for 
brunch in our garden. Mr. Butterfield turned out to be most charming: 
friendly, personable, affectionate with his grandchildren and with our 

Out of friendship for Genevieve, I did not raise any environmental is- 
sues on this occasion. But when Mr. Butterfield remarked on how won- 
derful it was that we enjoyed such a lush garden in the midst of the 
crowded city, and asked about the vacant lot adjoining our house, things 
changed. We informed him that only three days ago a bulldozer had been 
in the adjoining lot to level a lovely Victorian house and a wonderful for- 
mal Italian garden with tomatoes, beans, squash, roses, geraniums, and 
two small redwood trees. The garden had been tended by an elderly Ital- 
ian couple who had lived in the house for forty years. When the couple 
died — the husband within three weeks of the wife — the bank sold the 
property to developers, who planned to build a twenty-six-unit apartment 
building. Soon, our views would be blocked and shadows would fall on 
our garden. 

Mr. Butterfield was aghast. "How horrible," he said. "It is amazing they 
would permit huge apartments on such a lovely quiet street." 

I could no longer restrain myself. Assuming that Mr. Butterfield would 
easily see the parallels between the destruction of our views and the far 
larger problems caused by his own thirty-story buildings less than a mile 
away, I told him of the campaigns to stop such development. He was at- 



tentive and concerned. He said he had no idea there was resistance in San 
Francisco to high-rise development. 

This statement, in turn, shocked me. The movement against these new 
buildings had been going on for several years and included public protests 
and considerable media attention. I wondered if he was being truthful 
with me. I knew that among top corporate executives, who live in a world 
of spreadsheets and financial manipulations, there is sometimes little 
awareness of how their actions affect real people. Maybe the protests in 
San Francisco were not sufficiently threatening that the president of a Chi- 
cago corporation would even know about them. If so, it was a humbling 
reality for anyone seeking to influence corporate actions. I decided to take 
Mr. Butterfield at his word. In any event, it was the polite way of handling 
the situation. 

The conversation went on. He asked me why people were opposed, and 
I told him about the studies showing the effects of this kind of develop- 
ment. He was fascinated. He handed me his business card and asked me 
to write to him directly, and to forward the studies and any other relevant 
information. He said he would personally assess the situation and get back 
to me. He thanked me warmly for the news I brought. 

I came away from the exchange convinced the man was in earnest. And 
probably, while sitting in my garden, he was. 

I gathered the material, wrote him a long explanatory letter, and sent it 
in a package marked "Personal," as he had suggested. I soon received a 
reply saying he would study the reports and be in touch very soon. He 
never wrote back. A subsequent letter that I sent to him was not acknowl- 
edged. Finally, I decided that his polite behavior at brunch was, like my 
own, out of concern for his daughter. Back at corporate headquarters, a 
different set of rules superseded all feelings. 


It is clear that human beings within a corporation are seriously con- 
strained in their ability to influence corporate behavior. And yet, I have 
mentioned only two of the rules that serve to constrain this influence: the 
profit imperative and the need for growth. The following list is an attempt 
to articulate more of the obligatory rules by which corporations operate. 
Some of the rules overlap, but taken together they help reveal why cor- 
porations behave as they do, and how they have come to dominate their 
environment and the human beings within it. 



i. The Profit Imperative 

As noted earlier, profit is the ultimate measure of all corporate decisions. 
It takes precedence over community well-being, worker health, public 
health, peace, environmental preservation, or national security. Corpora- 
tions will even find ways of trading with national "enemies" — Libya, Iran, 
the Soviet Union, Cuba — when public policy abhors it. The profit imper- 
ative and the growth imperative are the most fundamental corporate 
drives; together they represent the corporation's instinct to "live." 

2. The Growth Imperative 

Corporations live or die by whether they can sustain growth. On this de- 
pends relationships to investors, to the stock market, to banks, and to pub- 
lic perception. The growth imperative also fuels the corporate desire to 
find and develop scarce resources in obscure parts of the world. 

This effect is now clearly visible, as the world's few remaining pristine 
places are sacrificed to corporate production. The peoples who inhabit 
these resource-rich regions are similarly pressured to give up their tradi- 
tional ways and climb on the wheel of production-consumption. Corpo- 
rate planners consciously attempt to bring "less developed societies into the 
modern world," in order to create infrastructures for development, as well 
as new workers and new consumers. Corporations claim they do this for 
altruistic reasons — to raise the living standard — but corporations have no 

Theoretically, privately held corporations — those owned by individu- 
als or families — do not have the imperative to expand. In practice, how- 
ever, the behavior is the same. There are economies of scale, and usually 
increased profits from size. Such privately held giants as Bechtel Corpo- 
ration have shown no propensity to moderate growth; their behavior, in 
fact, shows quite the opposite. 

3. Competition and Aggression 

On the one hand, corporations require a high degree of cooperation 
within management. On the other hand, they place every person in man- 
agement in fierce competition with each other. Anyone interested in a cor- 
porate career must hone his or her abilities to seize the moment. This 
applies to gaining an edge over another company, or over a colleague 
within the company. As an employee, you are expected to be part ot the 



"team" — you must aggressively push to win over the other corporations — 
but you also must be ready to climb over your own colleagues. 

The comparison with sports is clear. All members of a professional 
football team (itself a corporation) compete with each other, yet all players 
must cooperate to defeat an opposing team. 

Corporate (or athletic) ideology holds that competition improves 
worker incentive and corporate performance, and therefore benefits soci- 
ety. Our society has accepted this premise utterly. Unfortunately, however, 
it also surfaces in personal relationships. Living by standards of competi- 
tion and aggression on the job, human beings have few avenues to express 
softer, more personal feelings. We all know what happens to anyone who 
cries under stress in business or in politics. (In politics, nonaggressive be- 
havior is interpreted as weakness.) And yet, in the intimacy of the home, 
such true expressions of real feelings are what tend to matter the most. 
Such contrary standards on the job and at home can lead to a kind of 
schizophrenia that often plays itself out in busted relationships. 

4. Amorality 

Not being human, not having feelings, corporations do not have morals or 
altruistic goals. So decisions that may be antithetical to community goals 
or environmental health are made without suffering misgivings. In fact, 
corporate executives praise "nonemotionality" as a basis for "objective" 

Corporations, however, seek to hide their amorality, and attempt to act 
as if they were altruistic. Lately there has been a concerted effort by Amer- 
ican industry to seem concerned with contemporary social issues, such as 
environmental cleanups, community arts, or drug programs. The effort to 
exhibit social responsibility by corporations comes precisely because they 
are innately not responsible to the public; they have no interest in com- 
munity goals except the ones that serve their purposes. This false altruism 
should not be confused with the genuine altruism human beings exhibit 
for one another when, for example, one goes for help on behalf of a sick 
neighbor, or takes care of the kids, or loans money. Corporate efforts that 
seem altruistic are really public relations ploys, or else are directly self- 
serving projects, such as providing schools with educational materials 
about nature. In other cases, apparent altruism is only "damage control," 
to offset public criticism. 

For example, there has recently been a spurt of corporate advertising 
about how corporations work to clean the environment. A company that 
installs offshore oil rigs will run ads about how fish are thriving under the 


rigs. Logging companies known for their clear-cutting practices will run 
millions of dollars' worth of ads about their "tree farms," as if they were 
interested in renewable resources, when they are not. 

Other corporations will show ads of happy employees; usually these are 
companies with serious labor problems. Or companies will run ads about 
how they are assisting in community programs — day care, the arts, drug 
education, historic preservation — in communities where citizens have 
been outraged by corporate irresponsibility. In fact, it is a fair rule of 
thumb that corporations will tend to advertise the very qualities they do 
not have, in order to allay a negative public perception. When corporations 
say "we care," it is almost always in response to the widespread perception 
that they do not care. And they don't. How could theyp Corporations do 
not have feelings or morals. All acts are in service to profit. All apparent 
altruism is measured against possible public relations benefit. If the ben- 
efits do not accrue, the altruistic pose is dropped. When Exxon realized 
that its cleanup of the Alaskan shores was not easing the public rage about 
the oil spill, it simply dropped all pretense of altruism and ceased working. 

5. Hierarchy 

Corporate law requires that corporations be structured into classes of su- 
periors and subordinates within a centralized pyramidal structure: chair- 
man, directors, CEO, vice presidents, division managers, and so on. The 
efficiency of this hierarchical form, which also characterizes the military, 
the government, and most institutions in our society, is rarely questioned. 

The effect on society from all organizations adopting hierarchical form 
is to make it seem natural that we have all been placed within a national 
pecking order. Some jobs are better than others, some lifestyles are better 
than others, some neighborhoods, some races, some kinds of knowledge. 
Men over women. Westerners over non-Westerners. Humans over nature. 

That effective, nonhierarchical modes of organization exist on the 
planet, and have been successful for millennia, is barely known by most 

6. Quantification, Linearity, and Segmentation 

Corporations require that subjective information be translated into objec- 
tive form, i.e., numbers. This excludes from the decision-making process 
all values that do not so translate. The subjective or spiritual aspects of 
forests, for example, cannot be translated, and so do not enter corporate 
equations. Forests are evaluated only as "board feet." Production elements 


thai pose danger to public health or welfare — pollution, toxic waste, car- 
cinogens — are translated to value-tree objective concepts, such as "cost- 
benefit ratio" or "trade-off." Auto manufacturers evaluating the safety 
level of certain production standards calculate the number of probable ac- 
cidents and deaths at each level of the standard. This number is then com- 
pared with the cost of insurance payments and lawsuits from dead drivers' 
families. A number is also assigned to the public relations problem, and a 
balance is sought. 

When corporations are asked to clean up their smokestack emissions, 
they lobby to relax the new standard, to contain costs. The result is that a 
predictable number of people are expected to become sick and die. 

The operative corporate standard is not "as safe as humanly possible," 
but rather, "as safe as possible commensurate with maintaining acceptable 

The drive toward objectification enters every aspect of corporate activ- 
ity. For example, on the production end, great effort is made, through 
time-and-motion studies, to measure each fragment of every process per- 
formed by a worker. The eventual goal is to sufficiently segment tasks so 
that they may be automated, eliminating workers altogether. Where the 
task is not eliminated, it is reduced to its simplest repetitive form. As a 
result, workers become subject to intense comparisons with other workers. 
If they survive on the jobs, doing the repetitive tasks leaves them horribly 
bored and without a sense of participating in corporate goals. They feel 
like they are part of a machine, and they are. 

7. Dehumanization 

If the environment and the community are objectified by corporations, 
with all decisions measured against public relations or profit standards, so 
is the employee objectified and dehumanized. 

Corporations make a conscious effort to depersonalize. The recent in- 
troduction of computer surveillance technology into business operations, 
especially in measuring and supervising the performance of office work- 
ers, has made this dehumanization task simpler and more thorough. Now, 
every keystroke and every word of every worker can be counted by a cen- 
tral computer that compares each individual's performance against others 
and against corporate standards. Those people found to be too slow, or 
inconsistent, or who take too many breaks, are simpler to find and to dis- 
cipline or dismiss. 

In very small businesses, the tendency toward dehumanization is ob- 
viously mitigated, since some employer-employee personal contact can 



scarcely be avoided. But in the great majority of corporations, employees 
are viewed as ciphers, as cogs in the wheel, replaceable by others or by 

As for management employees, not subject to quite the same indigni- 
ties, they nonetheless must practice a style of decision-making that "does 
not let feelings get in the way." This applies as much to firing employees 
as it does to dealing with the consequences of corporate behavior in the 
environment or the community. But, as has been described, the manager s 
behavior, objectifying all decisions and all people, also acts to objectify and 
dehumanize himself or herself. 


All corporate profit is obtained by a simple formula: Profit equals the dif- 
ference between the amount paid to an employee and the economic value 
of the employee's output, and/or the difference between the amount paid 
for raw materials used in production (including costs of processing) and 
the ultimate sales price of the processed raw materials. Karl Marx was 
right: A worker is not compensated for the full value of his or her labor; 
neither is the raw material supplier. The owners of capital skim ofF part 
of the value as profit. Profit is based on underpayment. 

Capitalists argue that this is a fair deal, since both workers and the 
people who mine or farm the resources (usually in Third World environ- 
ments) get paid. But this arrangement is inherently imbalanced. The 
owner of the capital — the corporation or the bank — always obtains ad- 
ditional benefit. While the worker makes a wage, the owner of the capital 
gets the benefit of the worker's labor, plus the surplus profit the worker 
produces, which is then reinvested to produce yet more surplus. This even 
applies to the rare cases where workers are very highly paid, as with profes- 
sional athletes and entertainers. In those cases, the corporations pay high 
wages because the workers will produce more income for the corporation 
than they are paid. So the formula remains intact: Profit is based on paying 
less than actual value for workers and resources. This is called exploitation. 

9. Ephemerality 

Corporations exist beyond time and space. As we have seen, they are legal 
creations that only exist on paper. They do not die a natural death; they 
outlive their own creators. And they have no commitment to locale, em- 
ployees, or neighbors. This makes the modern corporation entirely dihVr 
ent from the baker or grocer of previous years who survived by cultivating 


intimacy with the neighbors. Having no morality, no commitment to 
place, and no physical nature (a factory someplace, while being a physical 
entity, is not the corporation), a corporation can relocate all of its opera- 
tions to another place at the first sign of inconvenience: demanding em- 
ployees, too high taxes, restrictive environmental laws. The traditional 
ideal of community engagement is antithetical to corporate behavior. 

10. Opposition to Nature 

Though individuals who work for corporations may personally love na- 
ture, corporations themselves, and corporate societies, are intrinsically 
committed to intervening in, altering, and transforming nature. For cor- 
porations engaged in commodity manufacturing, profit comes from trans- 
mogrifying raw materials into saleable forms. Metals from the ground are 
converted into cars. Trees are converted into boards and then into houses, 
furniture, and paper products. Oil is converted into energy. In all such ac- 
tivity, a piece of nature is taken from where it belongs and processed into 
a new form. In rare instances, elements of nature can be renewed, or trees 
can be replanted, but even in such cases they do not return to their original 
forms. So all manufacturing activity depends upon intervention and re- 
organization of nature. After natural resources are used up in one part of 
the globe, the corporation moves on to another part. With the transfor- 
mation process well under way in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Antarc- 
tica is the new target. Soon it will be the moon. 

This transformation of nature occurs in all societies where community 
manufacturing takes place. But in capitalist, corporate societies, the pro- 
cess is accelerated because capitalist societies and corporations must grow. 
Extracting resources from nature and reprocessing them at an ever- 
quickening pace is intrinsic to their existence. Meanwhile, the consump- 
tion end of the cycle is also accelerated — corporations have an intrinsic 
interest in convincing people that commodities bring satisfaction. Modes 
of fulfillment that are based on self-sufficiency — inner satisfaction, con- 
tentment in nature or in relationships, a lack of desire to acquire wealth — 
are subversive to corporate goals. For production to be hyped, i.e., for nat- 
ural materials to be transformed into commodities and then into profit, 
the consumption end of the cycle must similarly be hyped. The net effect 
is the ravaging of nature. 

Corporate entities that do not directly engage in processing raw mate- 
rials, such as banks or insurance companies, are nevertheless engaged in 
ravaging nature. Banks finance the conversion of nature; insurance com- 
panies help reduce the financial risks involved. The more nature is ex- 



ploited the greater the profit for all corporations. Of course, on a finite 
planet, the process cannot continue indefinitely. 

ii. Homogenization 

American rhetoric claims that commodity society delivers greater choice 
and diversity than other societies. "Choice" in this context means product 
choice, choice in the marketplace: many brands to choose from, and di- 
verse features on otherwise identical products. Actually, however, corpo- 
rations have a stake in all of us living our lives in a similar manner, 
achieving our pleasures from things that we buy. While it is true that dif- 
ferent corporations seek different segments of the market — elderly 
people, let's say, or organic food buyers — all corporations share an iden- 
tical economic, cultural, and social vision, and seek to accelerate society's 
(and individual) acceptance of that vision. 

Lifestyles and economic systems that emphasize sharing commodities 
and work, that do not encourage commodity accumulation, or that cele- 
brate nonmaterial values, are not good for business. People living collec- 
tively, for example, sharing such hard goods as washing machines, cars, 
and appliances — or worse, getting along without them — are outrageous 
to corporate commodity society. The nuclear family is a far better idea for 
maintaining corporate commodity society: Each family lives alone in a 
single-family home and has all the same machines as every other family 
on the block. Recently, the singles phenomenon has proved even more pro- 
ductive than the nuclear family, since each person duplicates the consump- 
tion patterns of every other person. 

As for native societies, which celebrate an utterly nonmaterial relation- 
ship to life, the planet, and the spirit, and which are at opposite poles to 
corporate ideology, they are regarded as inferior and unenlightened. Back- 
ward. We are told they envy the choices we have. To the degree these 
societies continue to exist, they represent a threat to the homogenization 
of worldwide markets and culture. Corporate society works hard to re- 
train such people in attitudes and values appropriate to corporate goals. 
But in the undeveloped parts of the world, where corporations are just 
arriving, the ideological retraining process is just getting under way. Sat- 
ellite communications technology, which brings Western television and 
advertising, is combined with a technical infrastructure to speed up the 
pace of development. Most of this activity is funded by the World Bank 
and the International Monetary Fund, as well as agencies such as U.S. 
AID, the Inter- American Bank, and the Asian- American Bank, all of 
which serve multinational corporate enterprise. 


As tor the ultimate goal? In Trilateralism, editor Holly Sklar quotes the 
president of Nabisco Corporation: "One world of homogeneous con- 
sumption . . . 1 1 am | looking forward to the day when Arabs and Amer- 
icans, Latins and Scandinavians will be munching Ritz crackers as 
enthusiastically as they already drink Coke or brush their teeth with 

Sklar goes on: "Corporations not only advertise products, they promote 
lifestyles rooted in consumption, patterned largely after the United States. 
. . . [They] look forward to a postnational age in which [Western] social, 
economic, and political values are transformed into universal values ... a 
world economy in which all national economies beat to the rhythm of 
transnational corporate capitalism. . . . The Western way is the good way, 
national culture is inferior." 


The most important aspect of these eleven rules is the degree to which 
they are inherent in corporate structure. Corporations are inherently bold, 
aggressive, and competitive. Though they exist in a society that claims to 
operate by moral principles, they are structurally amoral. It is inevitable 
that they will dehumanize people who work for them, and dehumanize 
the overall society as well. They are disloyal to workers, including their 
own managers. If community goals conflict with corporate goals, then cor- 
porations are similarly disloyal to the communities they may have been 
part of for many years. It is inherent in corporate activity that they seek to 
drive all consciousness into one-dimensional channels. They must attempt 
to dominate alternative cultures and to effectively clone the world popu- 
lation into a form more to their liking. Corporations do not care about 
nations; they live beyond boundaries. They are intrinsically committed to 
destroying nature. And they have an inexorable, unabatable, voracious 
need to grow and to expand. In dominating other cultures, in digging up 
the earth, corporations blindly follow the codes that have been built into 
them as if they were genes. 

Would our society have been better ofF if we had been told, from the 
beginning, that corporations would behave as they do? As with every other 
new piece of machinery, large or small, we were only presented with the 
pros, never the cons, of this creature called the corporation. There was 
never a vote as to whether, on balance, corporations destroy more than they 
contribute. Nor was there ever any effort to articulate the principles by 
which they operate and the manner in which they would inevitably be- 



have. Articulating these principles now gives us a picture we should have 
been given a long time ago. 

Now that we see the inherent direction of corporate activity, we must 
abandon the idea that corporations can reform themselves, or that a new 
generation of executive managers can be re-educated. We must also aban- 
don the assumption that the form of the structure is "neutral." To ask cor- 
porate executives to behave in a morally defensible manner is absurd. 
Corporations, and the people within them, are not subject to moral be- 
havior. They are following a system of logic that leads inexorably toward 
dominant behaviors. To ask corporations to behave otherwise is like ask- 
ing an army to adopt pacifism. Form is content. 




You know, Jerry, I feel like things are really closing in. There 
doesn't seem to be any escape now; nowhere that's not being made 

Speaking to me was the artist Elizabeth Garsonnin. She continued: 
"I can really identify with the young people today; how trapped they 
must feel. The natural world is almost gone, and it's being replaced by this 
awful hard-edged, commercial creation, with techno-humans running it. 
They're already in Antarctica. They're in all the jungles. They're tagging 
all the animals. Their satellites are photographing everything. They know 
what's in the ground and what's on the land. Soon they'll be on Venus and 
Mars. And they're inside human cells. Where is there left for the mind to 
flee? They've even invaded the subjective spaces, the fantasy world. As an 
artist I feel as if the sources of creation are being wiped out and paved over. 
It makes the only viable art protest art, but I hate that. It means they al- 
ready have us confined; we can only react to them. I am so sad." 

• • • 

The exploration of the earth's uncharted wilderness is now nearly com- 
plete. The drive of Westerners to convert wild, uncontrolled, and unex- 
plored terrain into productive commodity forms is seeking new frontiers. 
Lately it has found two: explorations off the earth, into the vast wilderness 
of space; and exploration into the infinitely small, the genetic structure of 
life (which will be discussed in the next chapter). 



In both cases, as with all technical procedures of the past several cen- 
turies, the public is told that the purpose of the explorations is to benefit 
human beings — and truly it could not possibly benefit any species other 
than human beings — but this is not the purpose. It is only the selling point. 
In reality, the purpose of the explorations is economic gain, military ad- 
vantage, the satisfaction of ego, and satisfaction of technological society's 
intrinsic drive to expand. 

• • • 

In a recent issue of Earth Island Journal, Gar Smith wrote: 

Only thirty years ago, a child of Earth could look up on dark, chilly 
nights and marvel at the mystery of the stars. But today, the night 
sky is no longer an inaccessible mystery of the stars. It is now "the 
last frontier" complete with "challenges to overcome," with "new 
worlds to conquer," with places to be "colonized." Significantly, this 
is the same vocabulary that in the past justified the desecration of 
mountains, rivers, forests, and indigenous peoples: It is the rhetoric 
of economic growth. Clearly, the same philosophy that propelled our 
exploitation of the planet now fuels our ambition to explore the stars. 

When I first read Gar Smith s lines, my mind went back to when I was 
a child at summer camp in Massachusetts. I was lying on a cot late at night, 
looking out the open screen at the sky ablaze with stars. Even now I can 
feel in my body what I felt then. It was a kind of bursting; a reaching 
outward into infinity. The sight of the night sky filled me with warmth 
and satisfaction, even though it was also frightening. I had no words to 
articulate the feeling, but I could definitely feel my connection to some- 
thing infinite, timeless, constant, and beyond all imaginings and compre- 
hension. It stimulated my spirit, my heart, and my mind. 

Forty years later, I am sitting in an office at Public Media Center in San 
Francisco. A group of us are meeting with a disarmament organization 
working to block funding for Star Wars and the militarization of space. 
The client wants an ad campaign that will emphasize the expense, the un- 
workability, and the military ineffectiveness of Star Wars and a new arms 
race in space. We agree to that approach, but I am left feeling that perhaps 
the most important aspect of the issue has been left out. For me, the very 
fact of launching human beings into space, together with our satellites and 
technical apparatuses, will forever alter, if it hasn't already, a vital territory 
of the human imagination and experience. For now, when we look at the 
stars we are as likely to imagine machines Hying around as we are to make 
a spiritual and emotional connection, as all our human ancestors did he 



fore us. The human exploration of space, as with all wilderness, shifts our 
concepts away from the subjective, poetic, emotional, and spiritual realms, 
into a realm that is bounded by technical perspectives. 

• • • 

However worrisome the militarization of space, I worry more about the 
corporate invasions of space, now in full swing. The militarization move- 
ment has at least been met with well-organized resistance, but corporate 
activities, which will ultimately have greater impact, are going mostly un- 
opposed, and are accelerating. 

In February 1988, the Reagan White House announced an initiative to 
encourage the private sector to explore space. The progam provided for 
advance purchasing of commercial space products and services, thereby 
limiting risk for entrepreneurs, and offered an effective subsidy to business 
pioneers in space. A similar crash program decades earlier had made fea- 
sible nuclear research and development by private industry. 

The rationalizations for government-supported private development 
of space had already been provided by decades of Utopian visions, as far 
back as the Worlds Fair of 1940 up to today's visionary environments, such 
as EPCOT Center. Following the rule that new technical endeavors are 
introduced in idealized terms by the people who stand most to gain, cor- 
porations have been advertising the economic gains that space develop- 
ment will offer humanity. New space resources will lead to both Earth and 
space jobs, international cooperation, new horizons, and loftier visions, all 
of it somehow trickling down to benefit Earth's teeming billions. 

Of course the real driving motives for space exploration and develop- 
ment have nothing to do with what will benefit the majority of people on 
Earth, or the planet itself. It has only to do with the intrinsic drives of 
corporate and technological society to expand and to grow whether or not 
there is any benefit, and whether more harm is done than good. 

Technological society is running out of resources to fuel its growth, 
having run directly into the inherent limits of a finite planet. Once every 
inch has been explored, and photographed from space with infrared cam- 
eras; once the resources are mapped, the people driven off the land, and 
the last resources converted to commodities, what next? Just as economic 
managers in earlier centuries saw the need to explore and colonize new 
continents, to expand their sources of supply, we have turned today to 
space colonization. 

It was not out of altruism that the Europeans ravaged the New World; 
it was out of greed. Nor was it altruism in the 1800s when the process was 
called Manifest Destiny — when "God's will" mandated that we spread 



our form of life over the continent and its peoples. Nor is it altruism today 
on Earth or in space. As Ronald Reagan's secretary of commerce put it, 
when announcing the new private initiatives for space development: "The 
real business of space exploration is business." Indeed it is. And as with 
every other wilderness on Earth — being reshaped, cut down, dug up, and 
moved around — space wilderness is already being transformed, from 
source of our imaginings, our spirit, and our psyche, to resource for in- 
dustrial growth. 


The kinds of businesses proposed for space thus far are mainly mining 
oriented, and will begin on the moon. Gar Smith reports that "oxygen may 
be the first major commodity that scientists try to extract. Sixty percent of 
the lunar soils are composed of silicon-based oxides, and researchers are 
toying with the idea of using nuclear reactors or solar furnaces to turn 
moon dust into oxygen." Each 10,000 tons of lunar soil would also release 
a ton of hydrogen, useful in rocket fuel and in many manufacturing pro- 
cesses. The moon could also be mined for anorthosite (which has a higher 
aluminum content than rocks here on Earth) as well as titanium. 

NASA scientists have predicted a population of 1,000 on the moon by 
the third decade of the twenty-first century. Active tourism should begin 
before then, with shuttle service from Earth, moon hotels, and guided 
tours of the moon's surface. After the moon, according to Smith, "the next 
target for exploitation will be the asteroid belt," where science would like 
to "harvest" the little rocks for hydrogen, oxygen, water, platinum, and 
nickel-iron alloys to fuel space industries. Under one plan, "massdrivers" 
installed on smaller asteroids could eject the waste material from mining 
into space, providing enough thrust to propel the asteroid into Earth orbit. 
The downside of these delicate procedures, adds Gar Smith, is that should 
there be a miscalculation, one of the asteroids could apparently tall into 
the earth's atmosphere, causing what one researcher warns would be a 
"Hiroshima-class explosion." 

Plans for Mars include "terraforming," which is the creation ot an ar- 
tificial Earthlike environment. The idea goes well beyond the primitive 
visions of people like Gerard O'Neill, who advocates that cities on planets 
be enclosed by domes in which a mini-Earth environment could he re- 
created. These O'Neill space-cities would have everything necessary to live 
a normal life off the planet. Within the dome there would be air. I\irms 
would grow food; water would be recycled and circulated. There would 

I 4 2 


he stores and baseball and movies. People could basically live the same 
kind of life they live now in California. 

"Terratorming" goes the fantasy one better, converting the entire at- 
mosphere of Mars into one that human beings could inhabit without 
domes. The idea is explained in James Oberg's book New Earths: Restruc- 
turing Earth and Other Planets. The restructuring process begins with 
giant mirrors aimed at the Martian ice caps, vaporizing the frozen water 
and altering the content of the atmosphere. Some steps down the line algae 
and lichens would be provided to create oxygen, and then, voilal Here 
come the Best Western hotels, with "outdoor" swimming pools and shop- 
ping malls. 

Hundreds of corporations are already heavily invested in such space 
activities. According to Gar Smith, before the 1988 initiative NASA had 
already spent $200 million to "make space safe for American business." 
Among the businesses that NASA has effectively subsidized — specifically 
by deferring some $75 million in shuttle-launch costs — is Space Services, 
Inc. of Houston, which "plans to orbit a $250 to $500 million, forty-five- 
foot-long space factory powered by a 200-foot array of solar panels." This 
company, working with a consortium of Florida morticians and retired 
Kennedy Space Center engineers, will soon be billing customers $3,000 
each to rocket-launch human remains for a permanent, orbiting "burial" 
in space. (Why anyone would want to be "buried" in space is a question 
that stumps me; my only guess is that it brings the deceased nearer to 
heaven, making it a shorter flight for the spirit.) 

Regardless of the motive, with more and more bodies flying around in 
space there will be an increased risk of collisions with other junk that hu- 
man beings have already placed into orbit. This is not a joke. In the single 
generation since space exploration began, some 15,000 objects from Earth 
have accumulated in planetary orbit. These include spent payloads, rock- 
ets, clamps, human excrement, shrapnel from exploded satellites, and dis- 
carded tools. And collisions have occurred. One Soviet space probe was 
shattered after colliding with space junk, and an American shuttle flight 
was endangered by flecks of paint hurtling through orbit. 

• • • 

Physical crowding in space is one problem, but a more serious problem is 
the crowding caused by communications satellite signals. There are 139 
satellites already in orbit, many of them jamming each other's signals. 
Most of these satellites are operated by corporations engaged in mapping 
the earth's resources. Using photographic equipment that is now so precise 
it can capture, from outer space, the expression on a human face, orbiting 


satellites are making records of every plant, animal, body of water, and, 
via infrared and other spectroscopic techniques, the subsurface minerals 
that are hidden from view all over the planet. In this way, satellite com- 
munications technology greatly accelerates the final stages of the world- 
wide process by which corporate interests convert all of nature into 
commodity form. 

Looking at the bright side, however, Gar Smith points out that this sat- 
ellite overview capability might benefit organizations that oppose military 
or corporate domination. For example, he argues that the French SPOT 
satellite "makes it possible for ordinary citizens and nongovernmental 
agencies to monitor nuclear test sites, naval concentrations, and troop 
movements," thereby decreasing the probability of surprise invasions. Ac- 
cording to this logic, ordinary people could map the earth's resources in 
the same way that large corporations do, thereby anticipating where the 
bulldozers might show up next. 

I am afraid that Smith is revealing here some best-case scenario fanta- 
sies. In fact, he may be falling into the same best-case fantasy trap that has 
historically misled and muted progressive-thinking people when trying to 
criticize technology. The inevitable fact is that satellite technology and 
space exploration are far more accessible to large institutions, military and 
corporate, and are hundreds of times more likely to benefit their goals than 
yours or mine or the Sierra Club's. These space communications technol- 
ogies were invented to provide a competitive edge to the institutions that 
invented them, and to assist their intended exploitation of nature. People 
who wish to live within the confines of the planet's organic limits, and who 
are not committed to a constantly expanding economy, or to seeking con- 
trol of resources or land, do not need satellites to map resources. The 
people who live near what we call "resources" already know they are there, 
and are happy to leave them in place. 


In creating public support for the massive financial expenditures in- 
volved in space exploration, futurists are playing a critically important 
role. Against the background of two generations of psychological prepa- 
ration (from World's Fairs to Buck Rogers to "Star Trek" to Star Wars) the 
futurists' role is to provide the intellectual and/or the spiritual sales points 
of space development. They have a stake in doing so, because the profes- 
sion needs places and subjects to ponder anew, just as corporations need 
new raw materials. If all that was left to futuri/e about was, say, the evo 



lution oi agrarian communities, or the renewal of resources, there 
wouldn't be much economic future in futurism. So futurists love space 
travel. They are devoted to urging it along, with appropriate images and 

Particular leadership in space futurism has been demonstrated by the 
late Gerard O'Neill and Herman Kahn. Both have written important 
books (Kahn wrote The Next 200 Years, and O'Neill wrote The High Fron- 
tier), which created the visions most prized by corporate-technological so- 
ciety: a future based on expanding resources for a growing industrial and 
corporate system. 

For Kahn, space exploration is the inevitable next step in the evolution 
of technology and the advancement of human society toward affluence. 
He believes we are at the threshold of realizing the magnificent promise 
that has motivated technological society. In The Next 200 Years, Kahn 

Two hundred years ago almost everywhere human beings were com- 
paratively few, poor, and at the mercy of the forces of nature, and 
200 years from now, we expect, almost everywhere they will be nu- 
merous, rich, and in control of the forces of nature. The 400-year 
period will thus have been as dramatic and important in the history 
of mankind as was the 10,000-year period that preceded it, a span of 
time that saw the agricultural revolution spread around the world, 
giving way finally to the birth of the Industrial Revolution. At the 
midway mark in the 400-year period, we have just seen in the most 
advanced countries the initial emergence of superindustrial econo- 
mies where enterprises are extraordinarily large, pervasive forces . . . 
to be followed soon by postindustrial economies where the task of 
producing the necessities of life has become trivially easy because of 
technological advancement and economic development. 

1 am still astonished when intelligent people describe life in preindus- 
trial times as dirty, miserable, poor, and subject to the awful expressions 
of nature. Surely they must be aware that indigenous peoples of the tem- 
perate zones of the planet — long before the harshness of sixteenth- and 
seventeenth-century Europe — lived very pleasant and relatively easy lives. 
(See Chapter 14.) But if Kahn acknowledged that, then how could he jus- 
tify advancing the industrial-technological age? 

Kahn is also overstating matters when he says that industrial produc- 
tion has made it "trivially easy" to provide the necessities of life. If that 
were true, then why are so many people starving and why is the planet 
being devastated? Kahn says that technology will fix these problems. He 


J 45 

predicts a future where everyone on the planet will live as Americans do. 
Space exploration, says Kahn, provides the resources to grow, and will 
move some of the uglier, more polluting industries off the planet to space. 

In Herman Kahn's view, space colonization has yet another role. It 
serves as a hedge, just in case things actually do totally break down on the 
planet — if we have a nuclear war, or an Armageddon brought on by toxic 
waste or pollution or climatic change. If that happens, says Kahn, the space 
colonists can just cloister themselves in their domes for a while and return 
later when Earth can be cleaned up. For Kahn, space represents simply 
another "continent" to be exploited; a place where people can get more 
resources, try out some new lifestyles, create some new trends, do some 
industrial things that are difficult to do on Earth, ship home some neat new 
technologies, and keep the economy growing. Corporations love this 

Like Kahn, Gerard O'Neill understands that we cannot keep expand- 
ing economically if we are confined to Earth. Resources get used up, mar- 
kets get dried up, population has to stabilize, and there's a limit to spaces 
for parked cars. Space is the answer. Use up this planet; go find another. 

O'Neill rationalizes the need for this continued growth with fantasies 
of preindustrial life that are even grimmer than Kahn's: 

Through many tens of thousands of years human beings were few 
in numbers and insignificant in power over the physical environ- 
ment. Not only war but famine and plague decimated populations 
whenever they grew large. Centuries passed without great increase 
in the total human population. The quality of life, for most people 
in those preindustrial years, seems to have been low even in times of 
peace. Although there were, nearly everywhere, small privileged 
classes enjoying comparative wealth, most people lived out their lives 
in heavy labor, many as slaves. 

Is O'Neill suggesting there is something good about expanding popu- 
lation? As for his descriptions of the miserable "quality of life" for prein- 
dustrial peoples, what societies could he possibly have been describing? 
His vision might apply to a few Middle Eastern societies during the time 
Christ was alive, or to a later period in Europe, or for a time in China and 
Japan. But this description reveals how uneducated O'Neill is about the 
indigenous societies that lived all over the planet for tens of thousands of 
years without privileged classes, without slavery, and in relative comfort, 
especially as compared with many parts of the industrialized world. 

The familiar assumption that everything before industrialism was pain, 
poverty, slavery, and victimization by nature is the assumption that works 



best for the technological-capitalist agenda and its massive invasion of 
these "afflicted" societies. It makes it seem as if capitalism and industri- 
alization were altruistically motivated; do-gooder activities. This makes 
moving into space seem like a continuation of these do-gooder impulses, 
when actually space development is an attempt to flee the mess created 
here on Earth by these same corporate drives. 

(For a more complete discussion and analysis of Kahn's, O'Neill's, and 
other futurists' work, I recommend Gary Coates' brilliant essay "Future 
Images, Present Possibilities: Revisioning Nature, Self and Society" in 
Resettling America [see bibliography].) 

star seeding: sending the 
"best humans" to space 

A third "visionary" who I feel needs mention is the acid guru of the 
1960s, Dr. Timothy Leary. He is still around, still held in high esteem by 
a fair number of middle-aged people, and his message is important. He 
provides something that few other futurists do: a New Age techno- 
religious rationale for space colonization. It could be described as "Space- 
Colonization-as-Evolution." It goes like this: 

The planet is some kind of living creature, and all of its elements are 
connected as part of a single living entity. This is called "Gaia" in some 
quarters. (So far, so good. It matches the view of native people who have 
been making a similar argument for millennia. I like that part. But not the 

As part of nature's evolutionary design, the role of human beings is to 
be the consciousness of the entire planetary creature. We are the creature's 
brain. We may even be the reason for evolution, its goal. We are like the 
seed of the flower, existing to propagate more flowers in distant meadows. 

As Leary sees it, and this part is very popular with certain elements of 
the New Age movement, all events until now were in preparation for this 
moment, when our species would hold the position of leader, thinker, and, 
well, president of all creatures, and the whole planet. It is our responsi- 
bility to rule wisely and to further evolution. 

My own exposure to Leary 's ideas about space travel came during the 
late 1960s while he was still in jail. It was then that I met Tim's wife, 
Joanna, who was traveling widely to propagate Leary 's vision; it was called 
"Star Seeding." Its premise was that since human beings are the conscious- 
ness not only of this planet, but of the whole universe, we must prepare to 



leap off the planet to "seed" the universe with our higher consciousness 
and purpose. 

What I liked least about Star Seeding was the notion that we should 
quickly find and train the "5,000 people with the greatest minds," in order 
to launch them into space as soon as a suitable space base was established. 
From that base, these 5,000 "best people" would use their higher con- 
sciousness to form Utopian communities and undertake further explora- 
tions. We on Earth would continue to provide these higher beings with 
every technological tool our meager selves could create. 

I remember asking one of Leary's followers exactly how the 5,000 
highest-consciousness people would be chosen. By whom? By what stan- 
dards? Do they have to be technically fluent? (Of course — this is a high- 
tech dream.) How many would be artists? ("The greatest artists") Any 
Indians? (There are "some incredibly high Indians.") Men? Women? 
Gays? Communists? The only thing that became clear to me from asking 
these questions was that asking them meant I was clearly not qualified for 
the top 5,000. It's okay, though — I wasn't eager to go. 

What attracts people to Leary's vision, and similar ones floating around 
in New Age circles, is that it seems like a Utopian dream not rooted in 
capitalist economic gain. It seems to be about something far loftier — fur- 
thering evolution. Herman Kahn s Utopia is just, well, sort of like an in- 
dustrial Phoenix, Arizona. The Gerard O'Neill vision upgrades the image 
to, say, a domed Palo Alto with a great recycling program and good gar- 
deners. But Leary's vision has an almost naturalist cast to it. And it works 
well for the New Agers, who already think of themselves as pioneers of a 
future based on "higher consciousness." A lot of New Age people love the 
idea of leaving the planet, being chosen by evolution to be its personal as- 
tronauts escaping into space. The prospect of personally fulfilling nature's 
evolutionary design is so thrilling an idea that its advocates don't see, or 
don't care, that it is only a modern-day continuation of Manifest Destiny, 
with the same outcome. 

The assertion that our species is the ultimate expression of evolution, 
the consciousness of the planet, and that some people — technologically 
oriented Westerners in particular — are on the evolutionary frontier, 
merely provides a rationalization that makes space travel seem lofty when 
it is really business as usual. We continue to impose ourselves onto for- 
merly pristine environments; we continue to regard ourselves as better and 
more important; we continue to rationalize our purposes as being higher 
than the meager visions of 1 0,000-year-old societies who may see things in 
other ways; we continue to seek and exploit new resources to fuel our vo- 
racious appetites; we continue to lay waste to what we touch and leave 



messes behind us; and we continue to call this superiority, destiny, and vi- 
sion. These attitudes, if unchanged, will assure that what has been done 
to this planet will eventually be done to others. 


Over the years, I have wondered about the apparently strong appeal of 
space travel and development to the public mind. I can understand why 
corporations, militaries, and governments want to promote departing 
from the planet, and I have mentioned its appeal to the New Age collective 
ego. But it hasn't been easy for me to grasp why the idea is so attractive to 
others. I finally realized that space travel is not new; it is only the final stage 
of a departure process that actually began long ago. Our society really "left 
home" when we placed boundaries between ourselves and the earth, when 
we moved en masse inside totally artificial, reconstructed, "mediated" 
worlds — huge concrete cities and suburbs — and we aggressively ripped 
up and redesigned the natural world. By now, nature has literally receded 
from our view and diminished in size. We have lost contact with our roots. 
As a culture, we don't know where we came from; we're not aware we are 
part of something larger than ourselves. Nor can we easily find places that 
reveal natural processes still at work. 

This is exacerbated for Americans in particular, since our country is 
made up almost entirely of immigrants whose original connections with 
a homeland were severed, and who have no special attachments to the soil 
we live on. The Native Americans, who do have roots here, are not nearly 
as enthusiastic about leaving the earth as the rest of us are, as we will see. 

Corporate culture has also contributed mightily to the process, since it 
asks its retainers to care more about an abstract corporation than about the 
communities where they live and work. Corporations regularly abandon 
communities, sometimes impoverishing them when they depart, and they 
ask some employees to also pack up and leave for the next locale. 

Such disconnection from the places where we live and work obviously 
diminishes any sense of stewardship, which is a very important break with 
the past. As a corporate culture, we have begun to feel that one place is as 
good as the next; that it's okay to sacrifice this place for that one, even when 
the new place is not even on Earth. In the end, this leaves us all in a position 
similar to the millions of homeless people on our streets. In truth, we are 
all homeless, though we long to return. 

My friend Gary Coates, an architecture professor at Kansas State Uni- 
versity, whom I previously mentioned as author of Resettling America, has 



argued provocatively that our quest for space is actually a distorted expres- 
sion of a desire to return home to Eden, the place we abandoned. He sees 
our whole culture as caught in a replay of the Adam-and-Eve story. 
In a recent conversation, Coates put it to me this way: 
"Like all creation myths, the story of the Garden of Eden is not some- 
thing that never happened or only happened long ago; it is something that 
is happening in every moment. ... It was the murder of Abel, who rep- 
resented a state of oneness with the earth, that set Cain off wandering in 
a never-satisfied quest for the return to, or re-creation of, paradise. Within 
the confines of our totally artificial environments on Earth, as they will 
soon also be in heaven, we also seek to re-enter Eden. In particular, the 
creation of the Leisureworlds, Disney Worlds, megamalls, Air Stream 
mobile home cities, lifestyle-segregated condominium communities, and 
especially genetic engineering, space colonization, and terraforming of 
planets, are all updated forms of Cain's desire to return home by remaking 
the original creation. The tragedy is that in attempting to recover paradise 
we accelerate the murder of nature. It's yet another repeat of the story of 
Cain and Abel, another acting out of the founding myth of Western 

Coates is especially passionate about the role played today by theme- 
park environments; megamalls like Canada's West Edmonton Mall, and 
places like Disney World, Seaworld, and EPCOT Center. He argues that 
it is in these megamalls and theme parks that we are all being psycholog- 
ically trained for our future in space. In those places, he adds, "we can see 
the emerging mindscape and landscape ... we can actually experience our 
existence as preprogrammed participants in someone else's pre-engineered 

If not everyone can get to live in the Utopian future world within plastic 
bubbles on Mars, everyone can experience more or less what it would be 
like right here on this planet in these self-contained bubbles of artificial 
life on Earth. 

"Like the initiatory temples of Egypt and Greece," says Coates, "Disney 
World and the other worlds are the actual places where it is possible to 
understand fully the new mysteries. Space and time are collapsed and real- 
ity is re-created and fragmented just like on television. Things are only 
held together by the collage of stories that constitute the mythology ot 
Progress. . . . When we are in Disney World or Seaworld or Leisureworld, 
as with television-world, we are inside someone else's story; we cannot tell 
what is reality and what is not. In the preplanned lifestyle communities, 
we construct our places of dwelling into stage sets for the re-creation of 
TV fantasies. We are finally figuring out how to live forever, disembodied 



inside our television sets, so that we shall never have to go outside again. 
This situation trains us well for the disconnected world of space colonies, 
robotics, genetic engineering, and Star Wars that are our "real" tomorrow- 
land. Combined, the theme parks reveal the logic and architecture of 
hyper-reality; the world Umberto Eco calls 'the absolutely fake.' " 

Coates persuaded me that I should visit some of these places, and to 
view them as training grounds for a future disconnection from Earth. 
"They are every bit as powerful as the World's Fair of 1940," he said, "and 
with similar implications." So in 1988 I visited the West Edmonton Mall 
and EPCOT Center. Of the two, EPCOT is the more explicit in its goals. 
It intends to train people to live in and to like a certain kind of future. The 
West Edmonton Mall, on the other hand, is only a commercial shopping 
mall and amusement park, albeit the largest in the world. I doubt it was 
conceived as a preview of life in a Martian self-contained bubble environ- 
ment. But it is such a preview nonetheless. 


Edmonton is emphatically un-Martian. The city is the center of a spec- 
tacular natural landscape of sensuous grassy plains, wild rivers, great 
Rocky Mountains; it serves as the gateway to the untamed northern wil- 
derness of Canada. But on the edge of the city is the West Edmonton Mall, 
and the point of that place is to re-create artificial versions of environ- 
ments that are not in the vicinity. In that sense it is an otherworldly con- 
tainer of artificial reality planted into an alien landscape. In one visit you 
can get a fair sense of what would be considered crucial to a future life off 
the earth, where all human needs and pleasures are preplanned. Or, as the 
mall's brochure puts it, "The very best and most exciting natural wonders 
of the earth," within an environment of 889 stores. The brochure calls the 
mall "The Eighth Wonder of the World." And it is. 

When I visited the mall, my favorite "natural environment" was the 
World Waterpark. Contained within a glass dome sixteen stories high, the 
Waterpark is the size of five football fields. It includes a giant concrete 
beach with a raging surf and real waves up to eight feet high, controlled 
by a computerized wave machine. Unfortunately, surfboarding was not 
permitted, although I saw dozens of people bodysurfing. 

The air outside the mall was 20 degrees Fahrenheit on the day I visited, 
but inside the World Waterpark it was maintained at a constant 86 de- 


grccs. There were sunlamps for tanning and twenty-two water slides, in- 
cluding the Raging River, which simulates river rapids. You can rent 
rubber tubes and ride the "rapids" any day of the year. 

If you prefer the open ocean to beaches, the West Edmonton Mall offers 
a "Deep Sea Adventure." You can take an underwater cruise in a thirty- 
three-foot submarine, which submerges and cruises in fifteen feet of water. 
Or you can pet the four Atlantic bottlenose dolphins swimming in the 
same miniocean in which the submarine cruises. 

There are more than thirty aquariums throughout the mall, containing 
"more than 1,000 hand-picked specimens from the waters of Hawaii, 
Mexico, the Philippines, Australia, the Caribbean, South America, Japan, 
Canada, and the U.S.," according to the malls brochure. 

If your taste in natural wonders runs to birds and animals, the West 
Edmonton Mall has plenty. Glass-enclosed environments amidst the stores 
contain more than 250 exotic birds, including great flamingos from South 
America, several varieties of "intelligent and talented parrots," giant 
elands from South America, and many others. "All birds are housed in 
large aviaries," according to the developers, "which are representative of 
their natural habitats." 

As for animals, there are mountain lions, tigers, spider monkeys, squir- 
rel monkeys, black bears, French lopears, and jaguars, and your child can 
pet a "wide range of domestic animals throughout the complex." There 
are also 28,000 plants living nicely inside the mall, "many of which are rare 
and exotic species." 

In addition to "natural wonders," the West Edmonton Mall offers some 
of the most romantic travel destinations on Earth. Want to be in Rome? 
The mall's Fantasyland Hotel features Roman rooms you can rent, with 
white marble, Roman statues and pillars, and an authentic Roman bath 
with mirrored walls. How about Arabia? Beds are surrounded with imi- 
tation sand dunes. The Polynesian rooms feature beds within a "warrior 
catamaran under full sail," as well as simulated volcanic eruptions. The 
West Edmonton Mall world traveler can also visit a re-creation of Bour- 
bon Street, New Orleans, or a replica of a Parisian neighborhood on Eu- 
rope Boulevard. 

Elsewhere, the mall offers a full-sized ice-skating rink, an amusement 
park featuring a sixteen-story roller coaster, a 1.5-mile jogging track, a 
miniature golf course called Pebble Beach, a scaled replica of Christopher 
Columbus's ship Santa Maria, and, oh yes, 210 women's fashion stores, 35 
menswear stores, 55 shoe stores, 35 jewelry stores, 1 1 major department 
stores, 19 movie theatres, 1 10 restaurants, 2 car dealerships, and ^51 other 
miscellaneous shops, services, and natural wonders. Hey, if you can re- 


create such a complete world within a dome in Edmonton, Canada, why 
not do it on Mars? 


May 1988. My sister, Anita Rosenstock, telephones from New York. She 
tells me that her son, Rob Waring, a prominent classical and jazz musician 
in Norway, is going to be performing soon in Florida at EPCOT Center, 
part of Disney World. Rob will be part of a musical ensemble presenting 
traditional Norwegian folk songs at the opening of a Norway pavilion. 
Since our mother lives in Florida, my sister and I agree to gather as many 
of the family as possible and turn Rob's visit into a family reunion. 

Never having been to Disney World, I try to educate myself about the 
place. From the book Walt Disney World, published by the Disney Com- 
pany, I learn the goal is "to make dreams come true." I also learn the place 
is ten times the size of Southern California's Disneyland, covering 27,000 
acres — it is a self-contained total universe divided into four areas: the Va- 
cation Kingdom, which contains all the hotels, golf courses, artificial lakes, 
water paradises, and artificial beaches; the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Cen- 
ter, and within EPCOT, the World Showcase. 

The largest and main attraction is the Magic Kingdom, itself divided 
into six "theme parks": Main Street, U.S.A.; Fantasyland; Adventureland; 
Frontierland; Liberty Square; and Tomorrowland. Each of these "theme 
parks" is an unabashed attempt to concretize our popular fantasies about 
American life and American adventure and travel. Each park reaches into 
our minds to pull out and re-create the movie and schoolroom images 
from our childhoods, and to put us in them as if they were real. 

Main Street, U.S.A. is a prime example. According to the brochures, 
Main Street, U.S.A. "gives us a tantalizing look at the best of the 'good 
old days.' It is America between 1890 and 1910." Its a world of ginger- 
bread houses, charming horse carts sharing the road with "old" cars, bar- 
bershop quartets, choo-choo trains, and penny arcades. No unions in this 
vision. No blacks-only and whites-only water fountains. No Indians. No 
poverty. It's a series of Hollywood images of America that might have 
emerged from the brain of Ronald Reagan. 

Where Main Street, U.S.A. fictionalizes reality, Fantasyland makes 
"real" what has been imaginary: the Disney film characters. Cinderella is 
there with all the other cartoon people, including Peter Pan, Pinocchio, 
Snow White, the dwarfs, and all their cartoon environments of castles, 
drawbridges, forests, and fairylands. 



As for Adventureland, the official Disney book says, "Disney Imagi- 
neers strove to make it *a wonderland of nature's own design.' It is obvious 
to anyone who journeys through this exotic land that this direction was 
followed, leaf, stalk, and petal. A veritable United Nations of plants was 
assembled to represent the tropical regions of the world. 

The word EPCOT is actually an acronym for Experimental Prototype 
Community of Tomorrow. "The dominions of Future World literally 
know no bounds," says the official Disney document, speaking the infinite- 
growth wisdom of corporate society. EPCOT Center was invented to 
make us comfortable with these nonboundaries of tomorrow. One exhibit 
puts EPCOT's goals very explicitly: to "help people who are unsure about 
these changes, or feel intimidated by futuristic [environments and] seem- 
ingly complex systems, the . . . exhibits are aimed at making us feel com- 
fortable with computers and other implements of high technology." 

• • • 

By the time we arrived in Florida, Rob was already there, part of an official 
Norwegian delegation of 400, headed by the crown prince. 

"We had our first rehearsal this morning at 6:45," Rob told us, "because 
the rehearsing has to be completed before 9 a.m., when the park opens. 
They have a rule that the public must not see rehearsals or have any 
glimpse backstage. They don't want to break the illusion. The goal is for 
people to remain in a kind of fantasy state. For the same reason none of 
the musicians or performers are ever named, and none of the filmmakers 
get credit for the films shown in the exhibits. EPCOT wants it all to be an 
unconscious gestalt of some kind, experienced whole, without anyone re- 
alizing that humans worked on things. It might bring people out of their 

Rob and his colleagues were not scheduled to play until the following 
evening, which gave the family some time to visit the EPCOT pavilions. 
First, we dropped into Exxon Corporation's Universe of Energy. We en- 
tered a room that was set up as a huge theatre. We were startled to realize 
that the rows of the theatre were moving and rearranging themselves into 
a gigantic moving vehicle. A disembodied voice told us we were embark- 
ing on a "journey through time," to experience the history of the creation 
of energy. A diorama of the "world of dinosaurs" showed the creatures 
moving and threatening each other and us; strong scents were somehow 
emitted. The presentation effectively evoked a terrifying prehuman time. 
When our gigantic vehicle passed beyond the time travel, the loudspeaker 
said, "Welcome back, folks, to the twentieth century." Sighs of relief all 
around. Then the music suddenly alluded to Star Wars themes — with no 



credits to composers or performers — and we were launched into visions 
of tomorrow, a time "of unlimited electric energy" to fuel our dreams of 
a better world. 

Next was the Horizons pavilion, created by General Electric Corpo- 
ration. There, we were immediately put on a space shuttle to tomorrow, 
where they played almost exactly the same music as Exxon played (do these 
composers all know each other?), and where we could see dioramas of vast 
undersea cities and cities that float on top of the sea. We saw high-tech 
colonies in space. And in the section about the earth, we saw the most im- 
pressive display of all: a huge farm stretching to the horizon amidst what 
was once a desert. Now, we were told, the farm grows computer- 
controlled, worker-free, genetically engineered crops. The General Elec- 
tric announcer kept repeating the slogan, "If we can dream it, we can do 

Third, we visited "the land created by Kraft Foods Corporation." We 
were placed into little boats that floated downstream on a "journey to a 
place most of us have forgotten about: the place where food is grown." 
They showed the family farm — amidst appropriate odors of hay and 
dung — a wonderful relic from a bygone era. "Each year," came the voice 
over the loudspeaker, "the family farm is being replaced by business as 
farming becomes a science. With better seeds, better pesticides, and better 
techniques, we're moving into a new era." Soon after, our boat floated into 
a modern laboratory within a kind of greenhouse. Here was obviously 
where food is now grown. "This is what's called Controlled Environment 
Agriculture. . . . Nature by itself is not always productive," says the sci- 
entific voice of Kraft. We then floated past exhibits of totally mechanized 
farming. We saw new plant species now being developed that discard such 
wasteful elements as branches or trunks; we saw fruit growing directly out 
of plastic tubes. Many new species need no soil to grow in; they are hung 
in the lab and fed by an automatic, computer-controlled spray. 

Throughout, we hear a chorus of children's voices singing a Woody 
Guthrie-type melody, "Let's listen to the land we all love . . ." 

And so it went throughout EPCOT The corporations and the new 
technologies are there to make our lives better. The future will be a lot 
better than the present. We don't need to maintain our charming but hin- 
dering bonds to such anomalies as land, family farms (or any farms), or 
community, or the natural world. All we need do now is relax, float in our 
little cars, and be awed with the skill, thoughtfulness, imagination, and 
devotion of these can-do visionary corporations and their astounding new 
tools. We can all look forward to a future of very little work, total comfort, 



and complete technological control of the environment, the weather, na- 
ture, and us. Our role? To trust their leadership and vision. To enjoy it, to 
live in it, and to watch it like a movie. 

• • • 

The technological visions of EPCOT Center didn't bother me much. I 
had seen such things before, all the way back to the 1940 World's Fair. 
What really got to me was walking around the grounds in the world of 
EPCOT. Like everywhere in Disney World, the grounds were perfectly 
groomed; so manicured that they seemed unreal, part of a stage set, which 
of course is what they were. The idea was to show the perfect control over 
the environment that technical experts can achieve. I never saw a loose 
piece of paper or a patch of brown grass. The rivers that meandered 
through the place were encased in concrete culverts, totally dead save for 
the movement of the waters — except for one little lake that had been 
stocked with minnows and other small fish. I was surprised at that until I 
realized these real life forms were there on behalf of a small flock of pink 
flamingos, who ate them. Pink flamingos! Dreambirds. 

Just as the "natural environment" at EPCOT had been perfected and 
packaged so as to eliminate any of nature's troubling variabilities, so had 
the people who worked there. Everyone wore green and white costumes, 
similar to the crew of "Star Trek." Everyone was clean and perfectly 
groomed. (The EPCOT representative who ushered around the Norwe- 
gian musicians told them that she had recently been criticized for allowing 
her fingernails to grow longer than one-sixteenth of an inch.) 

Everyone at EPCOT smiled. Every question was answered in perfect 
sentences as if prerecorded. Everyone followed the rules to the letter. And 
it was clear that we had better follow the rules as well. 

On one occasion during a very hot day, we went for a beer at a taco stand 
near the Mexican pavilion. As we were about to step back onto the walk- 
way, a young woman appeared from nowhere and firmly (though sweetly) 
told us that we were not permitted to leave the enclosure with our beers. 

Soon after that experience my twenty-one-year-old son, Yari, and I 
stepped a few feet over a white line that had been painted along an exit 
pathway in one of the exhibits, to ease ourselves around the crush of a large 
crowd. This rule violation was spotted within a split second by an atten- 
dant, who firmly (though sweetly) told us, "Kindly get back behind the 
white lines and next time do not step out of them." Yari barked back, 
"There won't be a next time." 

Soon we all started to feel paranoid, as if we were being followed, and 

i 5 6 


possibly photographed. We had the feeling that "security" was every- 
where. It was definitely clear to us that we were walking through an alien 
world, hostile to human beings. It would have been naive to think that the 
aliens who ran EPCOT might not notice how weird we were. For if there 
is a single word to describe EPCOT Center, I would say it s control. 

The whole place is a visionary, futuristic projection of a Utopian, com- 
puterized, technologized police state, where human behavior is as prede- 
fined as the perfect grass lawns. It is a logical extension of the corporate 
vision that has been steadily evolving for decades. We were shown a future 
where every blade of grass was in place, and the bird population is ideal- 
ized to pink flamingos, all as part of an ideal future that includes every 
human being's emotions, genes, and experience. Brave New World. You 
either follow the lines or you are shipped out. The purpose? Efficiency, 
production, expansion, and a kind, measured, commodity-oriented, mes- 
merized, programmed, fictional, Disneyesque "happiness." 

• • • 

The day finally came when Rob and the Norwegian musicians were to 
perform, but by then my mother, seventy-six years old at the time, was 
tired. She dreaded having to make the long walk in ioo-degree heat from 
the parking lot to the Norwegian pavilion, a distance of about a half-mile. 
Rob inquired with the EPCOT people if his grandmother couldn't go 
with the musicians directly from the hotel to the performance site. The 
answer was no. 

Rob explained that his elderly grandmother could barely walk, and was 
definitely not a security threat, but to no avail. Apparently a week's notice 
would have been required to approve such an extraordinary request. 

So we would have to get my mother there by the usual means. I decided 
to take the probably futile step of asking the parking lot attendant if there 
was some rule that would permit us to drive right up to the front gate of 
EPCOT, rather than having to park a half-mile away across a steaming 
asphalt parking area. I expected a prepackaged answer. But to my amaze- 
ment this parking attendant, wearing his perfect little "Star Trek" uni- 
form, looked inside the car, saw my mother, and said, "Okay, just go on 
down." I was so surprised that I forgot to say thanks. I just stared at him. 
But he said, "You're welcome." In the car, we discussed whether or not the 
attendant's "you're welcome" was his way of being rude to us because I 
hadn't thanked him. Or was he simply exhaling more automated behav- 
ior — you're welcome, no matter what we say or do. If it was the former, a 
moment of rule-breaking by an irritated attendant on a hot day, we had 
witnessed the very first crack in the facade of EPCOT. It gave me hope. 



Finally, we made it to the Norway pavilion for the performance, and it 
was magnificent. The group sang ancient songs about love and rural life, 
about farms, animals, loneliness. Unfortunately, however, the perfor- 
mance took place on an outdoor stage while various quaint Disney vehi- 
cles — double-decker buses, old cars, various go-carts — drove by, and 
while thousands of tourists walked by noisily, stopping only long enough 
to pick up a phrase or two of a song, satisfied with the "colorful" Nor- 
wegians, but not actually interested in the music. I could see that the per- 
formance itself was totally irrelevant to the EPCOT plan; it was just part 
of the fantasy dream-park theme, where the world of tomorrow also re- 
tains "the best of an earlier time," like a kind of psychic wallpaper. In the 
world of tomorrow that EPCOT truly envisions, there wouldn't actually 
be a Norway that would be distinguishable from any other place. 

Meanwhile, as all the tourists and buses and cute cars were inching by, 
Rob was trying to signal the sound engineers who were located across the 
yard in one of the papier-mache castle towers. Apparently the EPCOT 
engineers couldn't get the mikes to work properly; the amplifiers were out 
of balance, and there was an irritating audio feedback throughout the 
show. They never did get it all working properly. Here we were in this 
celebration of the perfect technotopian tomorrow, and the engineers of the 
place couldn't get some sound equipment to function acceptably. 

So it would be, I thought, when they try to build those space Utopias. 
After all the money has been spent on the space program, and all the 
peoples of the world have been sold on it, and all the idealized controlled 
environments created, and all the corporate visions realized, the whole 
damn thing will end up functioning with the efficiency of, say, the subway 
or the phone company. It will work sometimes, but not always. To me this 
was cause for optimism: The grass always will grow up through the 
cracks. Nature probably will survive even if people do not. Total control 
never works. 


If places like the West Edmonton Mall and EPCOT Center are expres- 
sions of, and training grounds for, a culture preparing itself to depart from 
the planet, everyday life is becoming that way as well. The city of San 
Francisco, for example, where I live, has begun a process similar to many 
American cities, assessing its unique features and packaging them for a 
world of travel consumers hungry for a taste ol unrooted, artificial 



authentic experience. Whatever authenticity the city once had is quickly 
disappearing as its authentic features are converted into commodity form. 
This is the same logic as the West Edmonton Mall, which re-creates Bour- 
bon Street and Polynesia in a domed environment in the freezing north 
of Canada. Uprooted as we all are, not attached to any place in particular, 
anyplace can now be anywhere, and authentic places can become "theme 
parks" of themselves. 

When I first moved to San Francisco in i960, the cable cars were trans- 
portation. My kids paid a quarter and rode them to school every day. Now, 
the cable cars have been reassessed. Most of the lines have been ripped out, 
save the ones that run from downtown hotels to Fisherman's Wharf. Now, 
a cable car costs $2.50 per ride, and you rarely see a San Franciscan on one. 
Similarly, Fisherman's Wharf, which used to be for working fishermen, 
now has only a facade fishing fleet, to lure tourists. In fact, the entire city 
is rapidly becoming a replica of itself, and life within the city approaches 
what it would surely be like if lived inside Disney World. San Francisco 
is becoming "San Francisco, the theme park." Soon, we will find a way to 
re-create the 1989 earthquake. 

Gary Coates put the trend this way: "I fully expect that before too long, 
some entire nation with a depressed economy, perhaps England, will 
change its name to Olde England, charge visitors a fee at the border, and 
hand them a book of tickets for the various attractions: Double-decker 
buses! Charming Shakespearean Stratford! Real soccer riots for your en- 
tertainment! The actual battlefield of the 300 Years* War between Olde 
England and Olde Ireland!" 

Remaking authentic communities into packaged forms of themselves, 
re-creating environments in one place that actually belong somewhere 
else, creating theme parks and lifestyle-segregated communities, and 
space travel and colonization — all are symptomatic of the same modern 
malaise: a disconnection from a place on Earth that we can call Home. 
With the natural world — our true home — removed from our lives, we 
have built on top of the pavement a new world, a new Eden, perhaps; a 
mental world of creative dreams. We then live within these fantasies of 
our own creation; we live within our own minds. Though we are still on 
the planet Earth, we are disconnected from it, afloat on pavement, in the 
same way the astronauts float in space. 

That our culture has taken this step into artificial worlds on and off the 
planet is a huge risk, for the logical result is disorientation and madness 
and, as Coates argues, the obsessive need to attempt to re-create nature and 



antidote: reinhabitation 
of the earth 

In 1967 David Brower, then executive director of the Sierra Club, asked 
our ad agency to prepare an advertisement entitled "earth national 
park." The ad pointed out that, as the technologically advanced countries 
prepare to launch themselves into space, where presumably they would 
behave as they do here, we Earthlings should recognize that we have only 
one home. 

Our species, Homo sapiens, emerged from the chemical soup and soil 
that is this earth. We are part of an intricate web of life that exists only 
here. Nowhere else in the universe could possibly be "home," however in- 
genious we become in re-creating Earthlike environments in space. Given 
this reality, Brower argued that we should have second thoughts about 
stepping into space. If we did do so, he warned, we should at least simul- 
taneously think of our home environment, all of it, as irreplaceable and 
nonreplicable, requiring as much preservation as was still possible. Brower 
argued we should think of our planet as a kind of conservation district 
within the universe: a park, a nature preserve. So that once we had spent 
some time in outer galaxies, in hyper-reality, and mined all the minerals, 
and built some space stations, and given birth to non-Earthling children, 
there would be a place these kids could come back to, to experience their 
roots in nature. 

The advertisement was ahead of its time. Few people considered the 
idea of an Earth National Park seriously. Conflict brewed even within the 
Sierra Club about whether Brower should have been running ads about 
space travel. (Finally he departed to form Friends of the Earth and then 
founded Earth Island Institute. Later, Brower returned to the Sierra Club 
Board of Directors, and perhaps these few paragraphs — being published 
by Sierra Club Books — can serve to reintroduce the idea of Earth Na- 
tional Park to the membership. The ad should be rerun now) 

While Brower was arguing that the whole Earth needed to be conceived 
of as home (now that there was the possibility of departing from it), similar 
movements began to appear. In the 1960s many groups spoke in terms of 
human beings "reinhabiting" this planet, particularly taking stewardship 
over the places where they live. Included in these were the new urban en- 
vironmental movements that seemed to blossom simultaneously all over 
the country, as if they were conspiratorial. They fought similar battles 
against overdevelopment, crowding, pollution, and the control of cities 

160 in Tin-; absknci; or tin- sacrkd 

and neighborhoods by absentee owners. Some of these movements — such 
as the present Green City program in San Francisco, organized by Peter 
Berg's Planet Drum Foundation — added yet another dimension: making 
urban inhabitants aware of the native plant and animal species and envi- 
ronmental features of the places they inhabit, the goal being a natural re- 
newal within the cities. 

Similarly, the bioregional movement appeared in the 1970s, seeking to 
empower humans within a naturally cohesive region — such as a wa- 
tershed or a delta region or a valley region — to seize stewardship of that 
place and protect it from the larger forces acting to change, or to dominate 
and cause ecological harm. More radical than traditional environmental 
groups, the bioregionalists resist the authority of nation-states, which 
make no sense in ecological terms, and also value non-human life forms 
and their inherent right to exist. (By now there are 300 bioregional orga- 
nizations in the United States, though they remain little known since, by 
their nature, they are locally oriented.) 

In that same period of awakening, the Greens movement emerged in 
Europe. Less /?/a^-oriented than bioregionalists or the urban ecology 
movements, the Greens advocate firm limits to economic growth and the 
need to alter activity on the planet according to the limits imposed by 

All of these movements express certain aspects of the larger, global 
movement among the world's tribal peoples. The native populations have 
been speaking to us of their relationship to the earth for centuries, but we 
have ignored them. Native movements are diametrically opposed to the 
high-tech, corporate, expansionist philosophies that have disconnected hu- 
mans from our roots. 

Any movement that seeks to re-invigorate the relationships between 
human beings and the places on the globe where we actually live becomes 
an antidote to the space craze. 




Our society is characterized by an inability to leave anything in na- 
ture alone. Every piece of land, every creature, every mineral in the 
oceans, every growing plant, every mountain, every inch of desert is ex- 
amined for its potential contribution to commercial development and 
exploitation, and to the expansion of technological society. 

Even the essential building blocks of nature — the atom, the proton, the 
electron — are subject to commercial scrutiny. Where science can intervene 
science does so; corporations then package the process and sell it. 

In the previous chapter I suggested that the last two frontiers of this 
expansionist process, the last two relatively undeveloped wildernesses, are 
space and the genetic structure of life. That they have existed this long in 
their pristine state is not due to any recognition that some places in nature 
should be allowed to exist in an untrammeled and unrevised form; it s just 
that until now technological evolution had not provided machinery ca- 
pable of seriously intervening in these wilderness regions. That is all 
changing now, at a rapid rate. Meanwhile, organized resistance groups are 
slow to realize that space and genetics are wilderness issues at all. 

It is somewhat simpler to understand space as a wilderness issue. All 
human beings have a conscious (or unconscious) relationship to space. We 
look to the heavens and we can actually see that vast wilderness, one that 
is still in virtually the same condition (save for the presence of satellites 
and space junk) as when the first humans appeared on Earth. The con- 
stellations and planets continue to move according to their own rules. Hu- 
mans have had nothing to do with them thus tar. So the heavens still reveal 

1 62 


natural form. Space exploration also raises traditional environmental is- 
sues, such as pollution, ozone depletion, space war, nuclear danger, and the 

The genetics issue, however, is more subtle. Environmentalists have not 
seen genetics as a wilderness issue because most of us cannot physically see 
this wilderness, in the way we can see space. This wilderness exists deep 
inside our cells, where ordinary folks, lacking microscopes, cannot see or 
grasp what is going on. But the people who do see it — scientists and the 
corporations they work for — are excited. They have granted themselves 
sanction to alter, redesign, and profit from this hidden world, just as if it 
were a valley to be dammed or land to be turned to one-crop production. 

The premise of genetic technology and intervention is that life is not 
really different from any other undeveloped virgin wilderness. Since bio- 
technology and computers have now made intervention possible, techno- 
moguls are gung ho to exploit that wilderness, as they have done with the 
others. In the absence of public outcry, the technical elite gives itself per- 
mission to proceed. / have not given them permission. Neither have you. 
Permission has been surmised by the absence of opposition, and by the fact 
that the inventors of the technologies, the governments that supervise the 
explorations, and the corporations that expand the process all agree that 
it's good for them. They then rationalize why it is also good for us. These 
rationalizations become advertisements and World's Fairs and EPCOT 
Center visions of how life shall be lived. 

• • • 

February 17, 1988. The New Yorf^ Times carries an astounding image on 
its front page: a photo of three genetically identical Brangus bulls pro- 
duced by the Granada Corporation of Houston. They are so alike in every 
detail that, at first, I believe I am looking at a single photo repeated three 
times. The article accompanying the photo reports that livestock breeders 
can now clone identical animals from a single embryo, and that the tech- 
nique is nearing wide-scale application in the U.S. and Canada. From the 

The cloning technique is the latest in breeding technologies that 
have allowed animal scientists to steadily separate reproduction in 
livestock from natural mating and thereby gain tighter control over 
the hereditary traits of cattle, pigs and sheep. What breeders lacked, 
though, was a reliable technique for precisely duplicating superior 
animals so as to create the kind of uniform quality and production 



in farm animals that were once thought to be confined only to man- 
ufactured goods. 

The article goes on to say that such a development creates the imminent 
possibility of applying such techniques to humans. Prior animal experi- 
ments, such as in-vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood, have been 
successful with humans, so why not this? "This possibility that a woman's 
embryo could be manipulated in a laboratory to produce numerous ge- 
netically identical babies carried to term in the wombs of surrogate moth- 
ers would likely add to the controversy that often surrounds advances in 
genetic engineering," said the Times, raising the image of mass-produced, 
identical "designer babies." 

Unfortunately, however, this recent biotechnological breakthrough has 
not added to the controversy. Except for a few early legal challenges by a 
handful of dedicated opponents (notably Jeremy Rifkin of the Washing- 
ton D.C.-based Foundation on Economic Trends, author of several excel- 
lent, critical books on the subject), biotechnological research and 
development has met with little resistance and is growing at maximum 
speed. It has been limited only by the researchers' abilities to make their 
inevitable breakthroughs and by the exigencies of the profit standard. 


The absence of options available to the public to limit the onrush of 
biotechnology, or even to undertake meaningful public debate on the sub- 
ject, is not unusual. As I spelled out earlier, all new technologies are intro- 
duced in terms of their Utopian possibilities. The downside of the story is 
left for a later generation to discern and experience, when the technology 
is much more difficult to dismantle. As usual the parameters of the debate 
are set by the people who benefit from a positive outcome, the corporations 
who will profit from the rapid advance of biotechnology. But there is a 
difference this time. Biotechnology gained its foothold during the Reagan 
years. Perhaps because of that, the usual distance between university sci- 
entists, engaged in the invention process, and the corporations who un- 
dertake the exploitation, did not exist. Following Reagan's Law, the 
scientists, like everyone else, were "looking out for number one." This time 
the scientists themselves are the founders of the corporations, and they're 
making millions. At least two Nobel Laureates have converted their dis- 
coveries into marketplace payoffs, and they were only the first of the breed. 
So the tradition of academic objectivity and criticism, already seriously 
threatened by government-military contracts for various technologies, has 



now collapsed altogether, as now the university scientists are the corpo- 
rations. Now the scientists behave just as the CEOs of, say, tobacco com- 
panies. They present the positive, omit the negative, and call their few 
critics, such as Rifkin, "troglodytes." 

The corruption of scientific criticism and objectivity — and thereby the 
suppression of debate — has reached beyond individual scientists. Whole 
universities are becoming dependent upon biotech corporate funding, in 
one of the neatest financial symbioses between corporations, academia, 
and science ever to take place. And not just any old college is selling out: 
MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and UC Berkeley have become "suppliers" to the 
genetics industry in exchange for corporate grants. 

According to an unusually extensive five-part San Francisco Chronicle 
report on genetics (from September 28-October 2, 1987), the pharma- 
ceutical giant Smith, Kline, Beckman contributed $7.8 million to the Stan- 
ford University Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine and "in 
exchange, gets licensing rights to future products." And Harvard Univer- 
sity's medical school accepted some $70 million from Hoechst AG, a West 
German drug manufacturer, "to set up a new department of molecular 
biology. Hoechst scientists are trained at the [Harvard] hospital and the 
company gets any patents arising from the research it finances." 

Harvard University Nobel Prize winner Dr. Walter Gilbert sees no 
problem with this symbiosis, by which scholars become entrepreneurs: 
"At a university you want a happy millionaire faculty who are going to 
endow you when they go," he told the Chronicle, He might have added 
that biotechnology is more efficiently developed when the university and 
the corporate world both have stakes in muting criticism. 

As of 1990, 500 companies were deeply engaged in research and devel- 
opment of new genetically engineered products, spending more than four 
billion dollars. That amount may double by the time this book is pub- 
lished. Two-thirds of these research dollars come from the U.S. govern- 
ment, which is the fourth part of the corporation-university-science 
network. (The government view is that biotechnology, one of the few 
fields in which the United States now has an advantage over other nations, 
will enhance U.S. competitiveness in world markets.) 

Meanwhile, the general public receives its news almost entirely from 
these huge institutions — government, universities, corporations — all of 
which are deeply invested in a predetermined outcome. We get to hear the 
predictions about how genetics will benefit humanity and then, like a ride 
at EPCOT Center (where the message is identical), we watch it pass us by 
like some kind of diorama, or the latest hit television series, no more or 
less important than "Twin Peaks" or Lithuanian independence or Su- 



preme Court nominees or the World Series or presidential races. But ge- 
netic engineering is not merely of passing importance. It represents the 
culmination of all scientific efforts to intervene in and alter life on Earth. 
This time the scientists are not satisfied to merely rearrange or kill off cer- 
tain life forms. This time scientists will be perfecting life, re-creating it 
according to their own ideas, selecting characteristics that will work best 
in the marketplace, and putting the processes of life creation in the hands 
of private corporate interests. 


Of course, very few scientists ever believe themselves to be engaged in 
something harmful. The opposite is true. They believe they are doing a 
good thing. In the genetics field, typical enthusiasm is shown by Dr. Mar- 
tin Eglitis of the National Institute of Health, who was quoted in the 
Chronicle series as saying, "This is without question the most exciting time 
I've had in my life. ... I feel like if I work an extra two hours this week 
I'm saving the life of someone who, within two hours, might have died. 
The practicality of what I'm doing is very vivid. It's clear. It's beyond good 
science. It's knowing that what I was doing this afternoon is going to lead 
directly, acutely, to benefit mankind. That's pretty mind-bending." 

I have read similar statements from scientists in many other fields: sci- 
entists at Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory, who develop weapons 
to save the "free world"; computer scientists, who think advanced com- 
putation can rid the world of toil and disease; satellite mappers, who seek 
to discover all the world's resources, and thereby end hunger. No one 
wants to believe he or she is engaged in something horrendous, so they 
seek to justify its imagined benefits. This is natural. The problem is that 
the media often presents these self-serving observations without offering 
equal time to alternative arguments. On the rare occasion when the media 
does present opposing views, there is then no public mechanism to act on 
the issues. 

The language of the new genetic sciences is brimming with optimism 
and hope. The projects in the works are a litany of do-gooder ventures, 
including drugs for fighting heart attack, cancers, and blood clots; cures 
for dwarfism, anemia, hemophilia, hypertension, heart failure, burns, skin 
wounds, even A IDs. New, genetically designed plant species would resist 
disease and insects, thereby increasing world food productivity; plants re- 
sistant to herbicides would allow herbicides to be sprayed onto other plants 
that may attack our food supply. Scientists are working to develop plants 


that can produce their own fertilizers and their own natural pesticides, 
thereby eliminating chemical pesticides. (We haven't heard from the 
chemical industry yet on that one.) New plants and microbes are being 
invented that might possibly replace oil. We can expect plants that operate 
at a much higher rate of photosynthesis, thereby growing larger and faster. 
We can look forward — and this is imminent — to larger identical animals, 
with more meat and less fat, as well as new animal species that resist cer- 
tain diseases and that use fewer resources to sustain themselves. 

Finally, there are the wonderful possibilities for eliminating genetic dis- 
eases among humans. As many as 3,000 diseases that we presently suffer 
might theoretically be eliminated by reorganizing genetic codes. 

How can anyone be against these things? How can any harm come 
from any of this? It sounds so great that even I might be for it if I had not, 
for the past two decades, learned the awful consequences of accepting 
best-case scenarios for new technologies. Breaking that habit — as I 
strongly advise you to do — enables you to seek the hidden, negative as- 
pects. You begin to ask about the perspectives that are not presented: What 
do the environmentalists say? What do the farmers say? How will these 
technologies affect wealth and power in our system? How will they affect 
the biological balance on Earth? Is there any catastrophic danger? Have 
we thought it all through? Do we know who benefits and who loses? 
What are the spiritual aspects? The psychological aspects? The economic 
and political aspects? In sum, do we know what we are doing? 


By listing the following six major issues concerning genetics, I hope to 
point out how serious it is that biotechnology has not caused extensive de- 
bate in the public press, nor been hotly contested within the halls of sci- 
ence, nor been the subject of important new bills in Congress, nor been a 
major issue in electoral politics. Our society is standing silently on the plat- 
form, being herded onto a very dangerous train going we don't know 
where. Perhaps, when all of the issues are presented at one time, the big 
picture will start to become clearer, 

1. The "Andromeda Strain" 

The term refers to Michael Crichton's popular science-fiction book in 
which genetic research produces a new bug capable of resisting all efforts 
to kill it: when inadvertently released from a laboratory, the bug ravages 



all life on Earth. Of all the possible dangers of genetic engineering, this is 
the only one that has achieved significant publicity, partly due to the book, 
partly because of its inherent sensationalism, and partly because of a series 
01 lawsuits by Jeremy Rifkin. 

According to Rifkin, the problem is not so much that bugs might escape 
the labs, but that many genetically engineered products are being delib- 
erately released, such as the viruses sprayed on potato patches and straw- 
berry fields to protect against frost. The fear is that such viruses might have 
survival ability far beyond what is anticipated, might be transported via 
wind or vehicle to another ecosystem where they might indeed cause 
havoc, perhaps even on a worldwide scale, as the fictional book proposed. 

For a few years, major concerns about biotechnology focused around 
such apocalyptic dangers. So far, however, the first few viruses to have been 
deliberately placed into the environment have not produced any cata- 
strophic result, so the industry has been able to say, "I told you so," and 
issue the familiar charge of "Luddite" against Rifkin and others. And 
since we Americans have such short attention spans, if a cataclysm doesn't 
occur soon after a warning, we just go back to watching television. Hind- 
sight indicates it may have been counterproductive for critics of biotech- 
nology to emphasize this potentiality above others, as we will see. 

But just because the catastrophe has not yet happened doesn't mean it 
won't. Remember that when critics of nuclear energy predicted catastro- 
phe they were called "Luddites"; twenty years later came Chernobyl. The 
same was true of releasing toxic wastes and chlorofluorocarbons into the 
environment, which eventually produced Love Canal and ozone deple- 
tion, respectively. Both of these disasters are only the early warnings of 
staggering global catastrophe. 

The problem for critics is that a specific experiment is unlikely to pro- 
duce a catastrophic result, because with each experiment the risk is small. 
But as the experiments increase in number, so does the risk. Now with the 
genetics debate having virtually stopped, scientific labs, government agen- 
cies, and corporate producers of these bugs are exercising few if any ef- 
fective controls. Scientists and corporations assert that their labs are 
designed with safety in mind. For example, some bugs are being designed 
so that if one should somehow escape the various fail-safe lab systems, it 
would instantly die. Should we be reassured by this? 

In the absence of specific, strong, enforced safety standards — and one 
could argue that there are no standards safe enough to preclude all possible 
events — economics are what determine the level of safeguarding that a 
corporation exercises. That a corporation would sacrifice profitability for 
safety is preposterous, given the rules of corporate behavior. If I were a 



betting man, I would take the long odds and put my money down that 
within the next few decades a bug will get loose, will survive, and will 
cause one hell of a lot of unexpected, possibly catastrophic problems. 

2. Mandatory Genetic Screening 

There is growing opinion that all children should be tested at birth to 
identify their genetic characteristics. The motives, as usual, are supposedly 
altruistic: to identify the genetic characteristics that predetermine disease 
later in life, in order to reduce the risks for the gene carriers and others. 
For example, people with certain sets of genes might be well advised to 
avoid workplace environments in which chemicals known to stimulate the 
disease are used. In other cases, gene screening might help people avoid 
marriages between two carriers of a dangerous hereditary trait. There are 
also racial implications: black people, for example, are far more likely to 
carry the genes that may later produce an outbreak of sickle-cell anemia. 

Population-wide genetic screening seems like a positive idea to many 
people because of the potential to reduce or eliminate certain diseases and 
protect future generations. But again, this is the best-case vision. The other 
side of the story is that such testing could be used by insurance companies 
to refuse coverage, or by employers to deny work, or by the government 
to intervene in people s life decisions. 

Whether or not to quarantine some elements of the population, such as 
people with AIDS, is actually being seriously debated, as of this writing. 
One can easily imagine new levels of discrimination, based on race as con- 
nected to gene structure, or based on gene structure regardless of race. I 
believe a significant percentage of the population would find this a morally 
appropriate thing to do. 

3. Creation of New, Patentable Animal Species 

Experimentation with the genetic structure of animals is advancing rap- 
idly, despite opposition from animal-rights groups and humane societies 
who deplore the practice for two reasons: first, because of the pain inflicted 
upon animals used in experiments; second, because of the invasion and 
breakdown of "the sanctity of species." There is also opposition among 
small farmers who, already battling the overwhelming economic power of 
agribusiness, now find that invented animal breeds are another weapon in 
the corporate arsenal. The new animals, controlled and patented by these 
huge corporations, will be doled out only to farmers who can pay a 



monopoly price, thus endangering the viability of family farming even 

(The Supreme Court has ruled that new life forms, and new animal 
breeds, may be legally patented, just like any other piece of technology. 
The first such decision concerned a new mouse, invented by Harvard Uni- 
versity, genetically altered to be especially susceptible to breast cancer; not 
good for the mouse, but helpful for cancer researchers. The U.S. Patent 
Office granted the patent and the Supreme Court approved. Now similar 
patents for new genetically engineered pigs, cattle, and sheep — if those 
words still apply to describe these animals — as well as new aquatic species, 
are expected to stand up in court. The Patent Office policy was undertaken 
without congressional debate on the ethical, moral, or environmental is- 
sues, although twenty members of Congress had protested.) 

In addition to creating new breeds within an animal species, the ge- 
netics industry contemplates intermixing genes from different species to 
create entirely new animals with greater commercial potential. Creating 
new kinds of animals is not so new — horses and donkeys were bred to 
produce mules, for example — but what is new is the goal of creating new 
animals that can reproduce themselves, as mules cannot. 

According to some genetics visionaries, someday we may be able to in- 
termix the genes of animals and humans. (We are, alas, also animals and 
may be subject to similar indignities.) This may seem far-fetched right 
now, but I imagine that if scientists could create a humanoid combining 
the strength and size of a gorilla with the ability to speak English, some 
genetics company would figure out the creature's market potential. And 
if there were a market, do you think some moral argument would keep 
them from producing it? It would depend on the level of public debate at 
that time. Present trends are not promising. 

There are a few vocal opponents of altering animals' genetic structures. 
Dr. Michael Fox, scientific director of the United States Humane Society, 
was quoted in the 1987 San Francisco Chronicle series: 

It is very frightening to treat animals as simply assemblies of genes 
that can be manipulated at will by humans. It is our feeling that the 
inherent nature of an animal needs to be respected. . . . Exchanging 
genes from totally different species ... is fundamentally and morally 
wrong ... a violation of the sanctity of being. The patenting of life 
is another ethical issue. We are opposed to this commoditization of 
creation. Animals not only have extrinsic value to us, they have in- 
herent value in and of themselves. 



Jeremy Rifkin put it more succinctly: "We're talking about reducing 
life to the status of a manufactured commodity, indistinguishable from 
other commercial products. ... It is the ultimate desecration of life." 

4. Gene-Line Therapy and "Designer Babies" 

If we can preselect desirable genes for the "lower" life forms — plants and 
animals — we can do the same for human animals. The question of where 
to draw the line has created some dis-ease among scientists. Most see no 
problem with genetic manipulation of plant life, but a few are ambivalent 
about the alteration of animal gene codes. Others think that fooling with 
plants and animals is fine, but not humans. Others say that genetic engi- 
neering is okay even among humans, though some draw the line at "gene- 
line therapy," which they consider raises too many moral and ethical 

"Gene-line therapy" is work now under way to map and then manip- 
ulate the basic human genetic code. Sperm and/or egg cells will be 
changed in order to permanently alter the reproductive line for all gen- 
erations to come. Particular targets will be certain gene structures known 
to produce genetic diseases, such as Down's syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, 
and sickle-cell anemia. Experimenting with the genetic structures of fu- 
ture generations, who by definition have no say in the matter, is at the heart 
of the argument, since the kind, quality, and degree of experimentation 
are difficult to control once the process begins. Who, for example, decides 
when it is ethically permissible to alter the gene structures of future gen- 
erations? Few people object to eliminating a specific disease, but what 
about gene-line experimentation for permanent cosmetic, racial, or sexual 

A significant number of genetic scientists don't object to gene-line ther- 
apy for treating genetic characteristics leading to disease, but are very wor- 
ried about the potential to produce new races (which is called eugenics), 
or about genetic "enhancement," i.e., making people taller, blonder, blue- 
eyed, stronger. Some scientists see no problem even with cosmetic en- 
hancement: Why shouldn't society produce taller, blonder people if that's 
what the public wants? They say the marketplace should decide. (There 
is obviously a role for advertising in this: "this week only, get two of 



The ethical, philosophical, and political issues involved are so subtle 
and complex that even scientists who call themselves "medical ethicists" 
are at odds about where to draw the line. One leading "ethicist," Professor 


LcRoy Walters of Georgetown University, told the San Francisco Chron- 
icle that genetic enhancements are perfectly appropriate. He, for one, 
would love to see geneticists design children with better memories, which 
would be useful for academic life. "As long as this would be a familial 
decision," says Dr. Walters, "as long as every couple were free to decide, 
'Do we want this kind of intervention for our children?' which they pre- 
sumably pass on to their children, then I think that decision would be per- 
fectly compatible with a democratic society." 

What about those families who could not afford or did not want to buy 
better-designed children with longer memories? Would they not consti- 
tute a new class facing a new category of discrimination? Dr. Walters has 
an answer for this: Gene-line alteration should be available to all families, 
democratically. He compares it to public education; every family should 
have equal access to the technology. (Equal access to technology has never 
yet been achieved with any technology in any modern society. Why would 
genetic engineering be any different?) 

Dr. Sheldon Krimsky, who heads the Committee for Responsible Ge- 
netics, finds all gene-line therapy intervention deeply troublesome: 

Gene therapy on germ-line cells would take us precipitously close to 
reshaping human evolution and toward some kind of prototype hu- 
man being. . . . You might start with height or with skin color or 
even with gene sequences associated with intelligence or longev- 
ity. . . . These are very troubling decisions that tremendously parti- 
tion society and create a kind of genetic aristocracy. Sure, we want 
to better our children's lives and improve their possibilities for sur- 
viving in the world . . . but to do this by gaining control over genetics 
will give some people greater control over other people than we have 

Dr. George Annas, a professor of health law at Boston University, adds 
this (also from the San Francisco Chronicle): "We already have artificial 
insemination clinics that use students from specific medical schools on the 
theory that they produce superior sperm. . . . Surrogate motherhood is 
similar. People want good-looking surrogate mothers . . . surrogate agen- 
cies have [picture] catalogs of surrogate mothers." This kind of entrepre- 
neurship, says Annas, will lead to some astounding scenarios: 

In the future one will be able to pick out both the mother and the 
father, combine the sperm and egg, and then take the embryo that 
results from that and split it or clone it. Let's say you clone it one 
hundred times. You freeze ninety-nine of them and grow one 



up. • • • You grow it up a year or two, then test it, | unci | photograph 
it. |Then you put it up for sale | saying your kid will be exactly like 
this. . . ■ we're talking designer babies in the extreme. 

Does this sound like some third-rate 1950s sci-fi or Nazi scientist flick? 
The analogy is not far-fetched to Dr. Edwin ChargofF, a professor of bio- 
chemistry at Columbia University Medical School. He recently wrote in 
Nature magazine: "A new era has begun. . . . Science is now the craft of 
the manipulation, modification, substitution and deflection of the forces 
of nature . . . human husbandry." Envisioning a time when human em- 
bryos will be mass-produced for experimental purposes, he issues this 
warning: "What I see coming is a gigantic slaughterhouse, a molecular 
Auschwitz in which valuable enzymes, hormones and so on will be ex- 
tracted instead of gold teeth." 

Thus far, efforts to influence the National Institute of Health to ban 
gene-line therapy, or to at least place meaningful restrictions on it, have 
railed. At this time there are few controls other than the dubious systems 
that corporate and university labs themselves create. That safety will 
someday be compromised as genetics researchers chase an elusive but 
highly profitable goal is, to me, obvious. Similarly, if we allow geneticists 
to intervene in future generations, especially without strict controls, then 
only marketability will determine the new colors, sizes, attitudes, and abil- 
ities of humans. 

5. Monoculture in the Genetic Wilderness 

As human beings become subject to preplanning and redesign, and our 
less popular or less commercially salient characteristics drop out of the 
gene pool, the human world will experience a reduction of genetic diver- 
sity. This is akin to the reduction of plant and animal species that has come 
with one-crop agriculture, seed selection and monopolization, and the 
conversion of varied ecosystems into monolithic suburban or urban forms. 
Of course, long before genetic engineering the gene pool has been altered 
by natural forces; but the human, commercial forces are ones we can the- 
oretically control. We have seen how commercial interests regard the rel- 
ative importance of marshlands, deserts, and forests. They are given low 
priority as compared with their redevelopment possibilities. The net result 
is that life on Earth is far less varied. Animal species have declined precip- 
itously as habitats — wetlands, wildlands, forests — have disappeared. The 
same can be said of plants and millions of kinds of microorganisms and 
insects. As environmentalists know well, the net reduction of the planet's 
biotic diversity produces a net reduction in the worldwide gene pool, 



which is the source of new life. Too much reduction in the gene pool 
causes an insufficiency of the billions and trillions of interactions required 
for a healthy ecosystem — whether we are speaking of one river delta or 
the whole earth. 

6. Gene Wars 

In their book Gene Wars, Charles Pillar and Dr. Keith R. Yamamoto re- 
verse the usual assumptions about the dangers of genetic research. Nor- 
mally, the worst-case scenario for the consequences of genetic research 
contemplates one of two catastrophes: either an accidental release of a le- 
thal new organism, or an intentional release of a presumably benign or- 
ganism, which then goes out of control. In Gene Wars the authors 
contemplate an entirely different worst-case scenario, in which horrible 
new bugs and/or chemicals, known to be terrible killers, are deliberately 
released into the environment. 

Unlike the accidental scenarios that most people discuss, this one is not 
theoretical. Pillar and Yamamoto call the 1980s "the decade of military 
biology," a description that may apply as well to the 1990s. They point out 
that the growth rate for U.S. chemical and biological warfare (CBW) ex- 
penditures outstripped all other growth rates within military classifica- 
tions. They also point out that the rate was actually higher than indicated, 
since the official rate doesn't include other life sciences research by the mil- 
itary, which, according to the authors, has "clear applications to biological 

The U.S. Department of Defense has argued that, unlike the Soviet 
Union, U.S. research is defensive. But according to Pillar and Yamamoto, 
"the secrecy inherent in military operations makes it impossible to evaluate 
the claim." As for the difference between offensive and defensive CBW 
research, the authors make a chilling point: Whether they are researching 
offensive or defensive uses, they create exactly the same bugs, exactly the 
same deployment scenarios, and design everything with the maximum de- 
gree of kill potential. "Even the DOD acknowledges that in BW research 
the difference between offense and defense is purely a matter of intent/' 
say Pillar and Yamamoto. "This largely holds true for development, test- 
ing, production and training ... to develop an acceptable biological war- 
fare defense — though virtually impossible against a potentially infinite 
array of genetically altered BW agents — the same features are essential. 
The U.S. 'defensive' program involves nearly all aspects of the BW pro- 
cess. It is not that offense and defense merely appear similar. They, in fact, 
share identical components." 



So protecting humans and other life forms on the planet is less depen- 
dent upon lab procedures to keep the bugs contained (as in civilian re- 
search safety systems) than it is on the intent and the interpretation of 
events by military hierarchies. It is also important to note that chemical 
and biological weapons production is not nearly as complex and costly as 
some of the other weapons of Armageddon, such as Star Wars systems and 
ICBMs. Small nations therefore can easily develop such weapons. At least 
two such nations, Iraq and Libya, have already used such weapons, with 
quite deadly effect. And Iraq continues to threaten to use them against its 
various enemies. Chemical and biological warfare has become "the poor 
man's atomic bomb," causing both the U.S. and Soviet Union to protest its 
development beyond our boundaries. 

Here is a partial listing of the principal military applications of the new 
biotechnologies that Pillar and Yamamoto warn about: 

• Bacteria that can resist all antibiotics. The offensive application is obvious. 
But the defense needs to develop these same bacteria in order to over- 
come them. At some future time, of course, the defense could become 
the offense. 

• Increased biological hardiness. Many harmful organisms adapted to live 
inside humans die upon contact with sun or air. As a result they cannot 
be sprayed from an airplane or released from a canister. Military re- 
searchers are seeking to make these terrible organisms survivable in the 
air, so they are viable when humans breathe them. 

• New organisms that can defeat vaccines or natural human or plant resis- 
tances. Another avenue of research is to camouflage an organism so it 
defies diagnosis and therefore cannot be treated. 

• New vaccines. A nation developing biological warfare agents needs also 
to create vaccines, theoretically to protect its own citizenry. 

• Increased virulence. Creating bacteria that are, as Pillar and Yamamoto 
describe, "more powerful, faster-acting, [morel invasive and [able to] in- 
fect and kill more reliably" 

• Weaponization of innocuous organisms. Making friendly bugs, like E. coli, 
now a normal occupant of human intestines, into killers. 

• Ethnic weapons. Scientists believe that certain bacteria and chemicals can 
be made racially or regionally specific. The authors of Gene Wars cite 
valley fever: "Certain studies suggest that blacks are far more susceptible 
to valley fever than whites. It may be possible to prey on such ethnic or 
racial groups by targeting a combination of these genetic factors." 



• Hormonal weapons. To affect human hormonal balance sufficiently 
enough to lead to death. 

Most people who are aware of chemical and biological warfare erro- 
neously assume that the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Biological 
Warfare Convention produced some significant degree of protection. 
Those agreements only specify offensive research work. They do not pre- 
vent a nation from doing defensive work, which, alas, has identical im- 
plications and dangers. 

In addition, according to Pillar and Yamamoto, the U.S. "historical rec- 
ord on CBW is replete with subterfuge, reckless experimentation, and 
rogue actions and is punctuated by violations of both domestic policy and 
international legal and moral norms. The modern record is no more re- 
assuring." And, say the authors, if this is the record in the U.S., a country 
characterized by an active investigative press and a relatively high degree 
of public disclosure, what confidence could we have in other nations that 
operate without this level of pubic involvement? 

It may be that in the present world climate, U.S. defensive research is 
exactly that: defensive. It may also be that Soviet research is defensive. But 
what happens if some nation develops an organism that cannot be detected 
or killed by current defenses? And what if this weapon had the potential 
for world domination that the atomic bomb had in the 1940s? Would the 
intent of the nation so blessed by this discovery remain defensive? It would 
depend upon who was in power in that nation and the world situation at 
the time. The only protection the world would have against a genetic ho- 
locaust would be the inclinations of a small number of people. 


In 1986, when the United States Congress asked a few mild questions 
about certain aspects of genetic engineering, the genetics industry and its 
apologists began to moan about the prospect of legal restrictions on their 
inventiveness. One industry witness put it this way: "What you have here 
is people [the critics] saying 'we're scared.' Nothing | negative about bio- 
technology] has been proven . . . but 'we're scared.' Is Congress now going 
to say, for the first time, that here's a new technology that we're going to 
delay because we're going to presume it's bad until it's proven good?" 

Chances are that Congress will not say any such thing. But of course 
that is precisely what it should say. Guilty until proven innocent! Here we 
have a new genre of technology that presents dangers as vast as those pre- 
scribed by any that preceded it, and that is advancing without safety mea- 



surcs, without controls over what it may put into the environment, and 
without thought about its social, spiritual, philosophical, or military im- 
plications. This is a classic case of a new corporate technology barreling 
through society without meaningful discussion about its possible effects. 
The genetics industry is aghast at any controls, and the liberal response is 
the same as it is to all new technologies: // depends on how it's used. 

The book that best articulates the liberal perspective is To Govern Evo- 
lution by California writer and environmentalist Walter Truett Anderson. 
Anderson feels that it's necessary to exercise caution but that we should go 
forward with biotechnology. He points out that we have been altering na- 
ture for thousands of years, at least since the beginning of agriculture, and 
that biotechnology is only the latest example. He feels that given a balance 
between potential good and potential harm, genetic engineering is good, 
since so many aspects of it are useful to humans. He acknowledges risks, 
but is willing to accept them. "No research or development in any field 
would be possible if we demanded absolute certainty," writes Anderson. 

Anderson is interested in standards: "We should be asking some very 
serious questions . . . about what we should and should not do. As we rap- 
idly increase our power to intervene in nature — to govern evolution — we 
need to develop a realistic ethical basis. There's no way we can prohibit 
biotech without setting up a police state with a cop in every lab. It's here; 
it won't go away; we have to learn how to cope with it. And we can't allow 
it to be guided entirely by the profit motive." 

What makes Anderson's view a liberal rather than conservative one is 
that he speaks about the dangers of a police state, and the harmfulness 
of the profit motive as the guiding principle for development. But in all 
other ways Anderson's views are identical with conservative analyses of 

My own viewpoint differs in most details from Anderson's. That we 
have been intervening in nature all along hardly indicates that it was wise 
to do so. It wasn't. And it is even less wise when the scale and quality of 
intervention is of the sort that is now taking place. Biotechnology may 
benefit humans as Anderson says, but the benefits are probably only short- 
run, and limited to a few select humans. In any event, what benefits hu- 
mans alone can no longer be the standard for measuring technology; a less 
anthropocentric view is required if the planet is to survive. 

I agree with Anderson that there is risk, but I disagree that the risk is 
worth it. As for a police state, we are far more likely to create a police state 
with genetic engineering than without it, since it truly serves philosophies 
of social management. I agree that it s good to control the influence of the 



profit motive, but there is no evidence that such a reform is possible in 
capitalist society. 

But my most significant disagreement is with Anderson's statement, 
"It's here; it won't go away; we have to learn how to cope with it," in which 
he voices the major apology of the last half-century (or more); the essence 
of our passivity in the face of the technological juggernaut. 

Biotechnology is capable of utterly changing life on Earth, including 
human life. Accidents may wreak immeasurable havoc on a scale that only 
such diseases as AIDS can presently imply. Genetics may ultimately create 
an entirely new kind of racism or discrimination. The field is already cre- 
ating and eliminating life forms and placing them under commercial con- 
trol; it is destroying small farmers, reducing the genetic pool, and may 
eventually alter human beings to make them conform to a new techno- 
politics of hierarchical gene structures. "Designer babies" — the commer- 
cialization of generational reproduction — are nearly here. Tinkering with 
human "personality traits" is also gaining speed. Selecting genes and as- 
sembling new humans, as if with modules from a lumber yard, is immi- 
nent. Wars of devastation will also never be the same; they may leave 
buildings and machines intact while the biological basis of the planet is 

Given the current path of genetics, and its possible consequences, don't 
you believe it would be prudent to stop the process and ask that it prove 
itself innocent of these possibilities before we plunge into the abyss? Don't 
you think our entire society ought to engage in this debate, right now? 
Don't you think we all ought to ask if, on balance, we prefer the coming 
world to the one we have? Shouldn't we be asking what the trade-offs 
really are? Don't you think it is a matter of absolute urgency? And don't 
you think that if biotechnology proves to be more destructive than bene- 
ficial, that we have every right and obligation to stop it? If so, the first 
sentence to drive from our discourse is "It's here and it's not going away." 
The next step is to seek a means of stopping it. 



/n May i 990, the Washington Post reported that the National Research 
Council, an arm of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineer- 
ing, had thrown its support behind a technical scheme to battle the green- 
house effect, or global warming, caused by excessive carbon dioxide in the 

Environmentalists have been arguing for over half a century that the 
solution to the problem was simple: drastically cut the use of fossil fuels 
and stop cutting down the earth's forests, which absorb carbon dioxide. 
But the environmentalists' solutions have been considered unfeasible, since 
they might interfere with industrial growth and profit, and would require 
changes in Western lifestyles. So the scientific community has been seek- 
ing technical fixes that can accommodate continued industrial activity. 

The plan supported by the National Research Council, which advises 
Congress on behalf of the scientific establishment, proposes a massive 
"iron enrichment" of the oceans; that is, spraying hundreds of thousands 
of tons of iron powder onto the seas. This would in turn stimulate the 
growth of giant blooms of marine algae to soak up carbon dioxide, as the 
forests had previously done. The NRC called the plan "conceptually fea- 
sible" and suggested an expenditure of $50 to $150 million to begin re- 
search off the coasts of Alaska or Antarctica. 

The scientific community became very excited by the idea. The Post 



quotes Roger Revelle, formerly of the Scripps Institution of Oceanogra- 
phy, as saying, "I see no reason why it shouldn't work. ... I don't think 
there would be any negative consequences." 

And Adam Heller, a chemical engineering professor at the University 
of Texas, said the plan would be cost-effective and he thought there was 
nothing "fundamentally stupid" about it. 

A more cautious response was given by Anthony Michaels, a research 
scientist at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research. "It is an enticing 
idea that is being actively pursued," he said. But he added, "If you start 
playing God with the system, we don't understand it well enough to know 
what the outcome would be. The whole food web would be altered." 

Michaels was reflecting on the fact that marine algae form the basic 
foundation of the ocean food chain. They feed the 1c rill that are in turn 
eaten by fish, seals, penguins, and whales. Once human beings begin ac- 
tively adjusting the balances, especially at the scale contemplated, there 
could be surprising ecological effects. According to Washington Post science 
writer William Booth, when the added iron nutrient is sprayed on the 
waters, "the marine plants should undergo tremendous growth, much like 
ordinary houseplants gorging themselves on plant food. . . . The research- 
ers do not think their experiment could run amok because the marine al- 
gae would grow only so long as other nutrients such as phosphorus and 
nitrogen held out." 

The "iron enrichment" solution is only the most recently advocated 
technical fix contemplated by science. Here are some others the New Yorf{ 
Times reported in August 1988: 

• A plan to cover the oceans with polystyrene chips, while painting all the 
roofs of the houses on Earth bright white. This would cause sunlight to 
be reflected rather than absorbed on the earth's surface. 

• A project to create orbiting satellites made of a very fine material, equal 
in size to about 2 percent of the earth's surface, that would block sunlight 
and cast a shadow on the planet, reducing temperature. (Such a scheme 
is also proposed to cool Venus, so that we might contemplate coloniza- 
tion there.) 

• Last but not least, a proposal by Dr. Wallace Broecker, a professor of geo- 
chemistry at Columbia, to load several hundred jumbo jets with sulfur 
dioxide to be released at high altitudes. This would simulate the eftect 
of a large volcanic explosion of the kind that has, from time to time, 
blocked the sun's rays, thereby cooling the earth's surface. The negative 



aspects of this plan, Broecker said, include an increase in acid rain, and 
a change in the color of the sky from blue to whitish. "This is not a big 
expense," he argued, "compared to the impact on industry if we give up 
reliance on fossil fuels." 

• • • 

A second contemporary atmospheric problem that science is attempting to 
correct is ozone layer depletion due to the excessive release of chlorofluoro- 
carbons in the atmosphere. Again, environmentalists have offered a simple 
solution: Stop using CFCs for polystyrene, aerosols, and refrigeration. But 
again this would negatively affect industrial production. Science is seeking 

The New Yorl{ Times quoted Princeton physicist Thomas H. Stix, who 
is promoting an idea called "atmospheric processing." He suggests aiming 
giant lasers at chlorofluorocarbons as they rise from the earth, shattering 
them before they get to the stratosphere. The only concern with this is 
whether it is possible to shoot the CFCs without also hitting other mole- 
cules, with unknown consequences. 

Another suggestion was to shoot ozone bullets directly into the strato- 
sphere, where they would melt and replenish the depleted ozone. Leon Y. 
Sadler, a chemical engineer at the University of Alabama, would load a 
fleet of jumbo jets — presumably a different fleet from Dr. Broeckers — 
with ozone manufactured by an earth-based industry, carry it as high as 
possible, and pump it back into the atmosphere. 

This idea has great merit for industry. First of all, it places ozone into 
the category of "renewable resource " like a forest. (Of course, forest prod- 
ucts, when cut down, are at least used for something, while ozone is de- 
stroyed for no purpose.) Dr. Sadler's plan would replace formerly 
unproductive atmospheric ozone with new ozone, produced in our fac- 
tories on Earth, thereby creating jobs, profits, and economic growth. 

The Times quotes some scientists as cautioning that these ideas are still 
on the drawing board and may not prove feasible. Nonetheless they felt 
that as such proposals are publicized, as the Times was doing (and as I am 
doing), scientific creativity is stimulated. 

What neither the Times nor the scientists say is that this manner of ap- 
proaching two planet-threatening problems — problems with very simple 
solutions (don't cut trees, don't use CFCs, reduce energy use, and apply an 
economic standard other than growth) — is perpetuating the very process 
that created the problem: more and bigger technological fixes for more 
and bigger technological problems. In my view, it is a form of obsessive 


insanity, rooted in our society's failure to grasp or respect the limits of the 
natural world. 


October 1988. My friend Mark Dowie telephones. He is the former ed- 
itor of Mother Jones magazine and is now a freelance journalist focusing 
on the excesses of technology. His book We Have a Donor takes a blistering 
look at the organ-transplant industry. Dowie asks my opinion of the latest 
hot ticket on the technology frontier: nanotechnology. I tell him I've never 
heard of it. 

"It's beyond genetics," Mark says. "Instead of merely redesigning the 
gene structures of living creatures, they're now into redesigning the mo- 
lecular structure of absolutely everything. Its the new frontier, Jerry, 
working with the infinitely small. The guru for this movement was the 
physicist Richard Feynman [who died in 1988]. The idea is to zero down 
into the atomic structure of all materials and rearrange their molecules to 
get completely new forms, materials, and creatures. They barely make a 
distinction between what is an 'organic' material and an 'inorganic' ma- 
terial, since once you're down to the molecular level, its all the same. I'm 
telling you, it's like the ultimate acid dream," says Dowie. "It's the 'new 
physics' all right, here and now. Once they can move the atoms around and 
redesign the molecular chains — and they're gaining on it — they will be 
able to redesign the whole world, molecule by molecule, and that's exactly 
what they intend. It's the technological fix to end them all. These nano- 
technologists claim they will create new food, and end all famine. They 
have already designed tiny semiorganic engines called nanomachines that 
can enter your bloodstream and be programmed to destroy cancers or eat 
fat or make any cellular change you want. They're talking about other na- 
nomachines called assemblers that will be superintelligent and will be able 
to build anything that's now made by workers in factories. These assem- 
blers will just be thrown into a vat of specially chosen molecules and will 
rearrange them in such a way that they will interact with each other and 
cause an object to actually grow in that soup and emerge as a space capsule 
or laser weapon or hair dryer. If they're right, it's the end of the resource 
problem on Earth. We won't need resources anymore since the resources 
are the molecules themselves from which they can make anything: trees, 
houses, animals, weapons, people. Eventually, they promise to eliminate 



death. Jerry, nanotechnology will make the Industrial Revolution look like 
a hiccup." 

By now I am sure that Mark is kidding me. He knows I'm skeptical 
about new technology. And this all sounds like science fiction. But he's not 
kidding. I tell him I don't know which would be worse, if they fail or they 
succeed. This much is for sure. They are fantasizing. They are living inside 
that best-case scenario frame of mind, although in the history of technol- 
ogy the best-case result has never once been achieved. I ask Mark who 
these people are. 

'Tve been all over the country interviewing them," says Mark. "I would 
say the main guy right now is a Stanford University lecturer named Eric 
Drexler, who wrote the bible of nanotechnology, Engines of Creation. He 
is hot. But Drexler is only one of them. There's another guy named Grant 
Fjermedal, who wrote The Tomorrow Makers, and a whole slew of them 
at IBM. They're all about forty and they're brilliant. They deeply believe 
they're doing something wonderful. It's like they're saying, 'Hey, this 
world is a mess. Technology has gotten out of control. We're heading for 
disaster. Let's wipe the slate clean and start all over. But this time, let's do 
it right, and let's not be limited by the way nature has chosen to organize 

"But Jerry, there's something missing from these people. I'm not sure 
what it is. These kids are the ultimate technology nerds. There's some- 
thing cold and harsh in their perspective. Perhaps it's because they are the 
first generation of scientists born and raised in a world already totally over- 
taken by the high-tech vision. They really believe more in machines than 
people or nature. To them human beings are kind of out of date. The only 
thing really important is somehow finding a way to preserve their brains. 
They speak about downloading their consciousness into computers. I don't 
think they'd mind if their brains could be saved and the rest of their bod- 
ies — in fact, a// human bodies — were thrown into the trash heap with the 
dinosaurs. They see their engines as an improvement over human brains, 
which have to be lugged around by clumsy bodies. It's the old sci-fi image 
of the disembodied brain. Or that old mad scientist flick where the sci- 
entist is ready to sacrifice all of humanity just to save some artificial crea- 
ture he invented. At first I didn't think anyone would take them seriously, 
but unfortunately they are being taken seriously. Their work is being 
funded. The big universities are involved. They're making progress, Jerry; 
this is really important. We've got to write about them." 

Dowie did. His article was called "Brave New Tiny World" and ap- 
peared in California magazine. 


l8 3 


A few months after talking with Mark Dowie, I picked up a copy of 
Hans Moravec's Mind Children. Moravec is director of the Mobile Robot 
Laboratory of Carnegie Mellon University and his book was written to 
describe "the future of robot and human intelligence/' To borrow Mark 
Dowie's phrase, it makes the Industrial Revolution and nanotechnology 
look like hiccups. 

The author unashamedly presents a tightly reasoned, step-by-step ar- 
gument in favor of a "postbiological" future: "It is a world in which the 
human race has been swept away by the tide of cultural change, usurped 
by its own artificial progeny." 

Moravec calmly explains how within the next thirty years we will by- 
pass the present limits upon artificial intelligence and robotic mobility, to 
the point where we will be able to "download" all of the content of our 
brains — which are now unfortunately stuck in decaying biological enti- 
ties — into computers housed within mobile robots, thereby gaining "us" 
immortality, via these machines. The machines will "evolve" by their own 
design and, when given the collective knowledge of all the great thinkers 
on the planet, without the limitations and fragility of their flesh, will gen- 
erate ideas and actions that will far exceed human achievement: "Such ma- 
chines could carry on our cultural evolution, including their own 
construction and increasingly rapid self-improvement, without us, and 
without the genes that built us. When that happens, our DNA will find 
itself out of a job, having lost the evolutionary race to a new kind of com- 
petition. . . . The new genetic takeover will be complete. Our culture will 
then be able to evolve independently of human biology and its limitations, 
passing instead directly from generation to generation of ever more ca- 
pable intelligent machinery." 

Moravec bases his predictions on calculations that the human brain is 
capable of "performing 10 trillion (io 13 ) calculations per second." He con- 
tinues, "This is about one million times faster than the medium-sized ma- 
chines that now drive my robots, and 1,000 times faster than today's best 
supercomputers." So, according to Moravec, all that's required to match 
human calculating ability is a computer that operates at only 1,000 times 
the speed of today s supercomputers. 

While acknowledging that his own calculations may be subject to crit- 
icism, Moravec predicts that a computer that can operate at the speed and 
capacity of the human brain, and that can include all elements of the brain 
(including the mechanistic equivalent of sense perceptions and emotions), 


IN Tin; AHSI-NCIi O I- Till-: SAC K h I) 

can and should he achieved within the next thirty to fifty years. I le re- 
minds us that in only the last eighty years "there has been a trillion/old 
decline in the cost of calculation," so the changes he envisions are actually 
do-able, especially because of the burgeoning technologies of miniaturi- 
zation, such as nanotechnology. "Atomic-scale machinery is a wonderful 
concept and would take us far beyond the humanlike point in computers, 
since it would allow many millions of processors to fit on a chip that today 
can hold but one. Just how fast could each individual nanocomputer 
be? . . . A single nanocomputer might have a processing speed of a trillion 
operations per second. With millions of such processors crammed onto a 
thumbnail-size chip, my human-equivalence criterion would be bested 
more than a millionfold!" 

Moravec indicates that his work is driven by his fear that two other 
technologies — genetics and organ replacement — are simply insufficient 
to accomplish his futuristic vision. Genetics, which hold great promise for 
totally redesigning human beings to be more intelligent and efficient, if 
undifferentiated, is nonetheless limited by the flesh-and-blood factor; we 
can only live within climatic and atmospheric limits and eventually we die. 
As for organ transplants and artificial organs, Moravec has this to say: 

Many people are alive today because of a growing arsenal of artificial 
organs and other body parts. In time, especially as robotic techniques 
improve, such replacement parts will be better than any originals. So 
what about replacing everything, that is transplanting a human 
brain into a specially designed robot body? Unfortunately, while this 
solution might overcome most of our physical limitations, it would 
leave untouched our biggest handicap, the limited and fixed intelli- 
gence of the human brain. This transplant scenario gets our brain 
out of our body. Is there a way to get our mind out of our brain? 

That's where "downloading" comes in. Moravec goes into exquisite de- 
tail on various ways this can be achieved. To give you one idea of his think- 
ing, I will quote one of his descriptions entirely. It involves the operating 
procedure for a voluntary "downloading" of consciousness into a 

You've just been wheeled into the operating room. A robot brain sur- 
geon is in attendance. By your side is a computer waiting to become 
a human equivalent, lacking only a program to run. Your skull, 
but not your brain, is anesthetized. You are fully conscious. The ro- 
bot surgeon opens your brain case and places a hand on the brain's 



surface. This unusual hand bristles with microscopic machinery, 
and a cable connects it to the mobile computer at your side. Instru- 
ments in the hand scan the first few millimeters of brain surface. 
High-resolution magnetic resonance measurements build a three- 
dimension chemical map, while arrays of magnetic and electric an- 
tennas collect signals that are rapidly unraveled to reveal, moment to 
moment, the pulses flashing among the neurons. These measure- 
ments, added to a comprehensive understanding of human neural 
architecture, allow the surgeon to write a program that models the 
behavior of the uppermost layer of the scanned brain tissue. This 
program is installed in a small portion of the waiting computer and 
activated. Measurements from the hand provide it with copies of the 
inputs that the original tissue is receiving. You and the surgeon check 
the accuracy of the simulation by comparing the signals it produces 
with the corresponding original ones. They flash by very fast, but any 
discrepancies are highlighted on a display screen. The surgeon fine- 
tunes the simulation until the correspondence is nearly perfect. 

To further assure you of the simulation's correctness, you are 
given a pushbutton that allows you to momentarily "test drive" the 
simulation, to compare it with the functioning of the original tissue. 
When you press it, arrays of electrodes in the surgeon's hand are ac- 
tivated. By precise injections of current and electromagnetic pulses, 
electrodes can override the normal signaling activity of nearby neu- 
rons. They are programmed to inject the output of the simulation 
into those places where the simulated tissue signals other sites. As 
long as you press the button, a small part of your nervous system is 
being replaced by a computer simulation of itself. You press the but- 
ton, release it, and press it again. You should experience no differ- 
ence. As soon as you are satisfied, the simulation connection is 
established permanently. The brain tissue is now impotent — it re- 
ceives inputs and reacts as before but its output is ignored. Micro- 
scopic manipulators on the hand's surface excise the cells in this 
superfluous tissue and pass them to an aspirator, where they are 
drawn away. 

The surgeon's hand sinks a fraction of a millimeter deeper into 
your brain, instantly compensating its measurements and signals tor 
the changed position. The process is repeated for the next layer, and 
soon a second simulation resides in the computer, communicating 
with the first and with the remaining original brain tissue. Layer af- 
ter layer the brain is simulated, then excavated. Eventually your skull 


is empty, and the surgeon's hand rests deep in your brainstem. 
Though you have not lost consciousness, or even your train of 
thought, your mind has been removed from the brain and trans- 
ferred to a machine. In a final, disorienting step the surgeon lifts out 
his hand. Your suddenly abandoned body goes into spasms and dies. 
For a moment you experience only quiet and dark. Then, once again, 
you can open your eyes. Your perspective has shifted. The computer 
simulation has been disconnected from the cable leading to the sur- 
geon's hand and reconnected to a shiny new body of the style, color, 
and material of your choice. Your metamorphosis is complete. 

Moravec admits there may be some debate about whether you are 
merely your consciousness, which can be passed into the machine. He ar- 
gues that our tendency to cling to our bodies, what he calls the "body- 
identity" position, is out-of-date thinking. He points out that the cells of 
our bodies are in a constant process of replacing themselves with new ones, 
and that within every seven years, all of our cells are new. He says it is 
absurd to believe thatyow have anything whatsoever to do with your body, 
your flesh. You are only your mind, or "your pattern," which, he argues, 
can be transmitted into a machine. In fact it can be transmitted into two 
or three or many machines simultaneously, not so much like a photocopy 
as a facsimile transmittal: teleportation, as in the "beam-down" machine 
in "Star Trek." In other words, the real you can be infinitely duplicated; so 
can the consciousnesses (the "patterns") of other intelligent creatures such 
as whales, dolphins, elephants, and giant squids. Moravec wants all of 
these transferred into machines where they will "live" permanently, pro- 
ducing an unimaginably greater, richer new society that can literally reach 
to the entire universe, without the awful limits of the flesh. Meanwhile, 
organic life as we have known it can, at last, be abandoned forever. Our 
collective suicide will give birth to a new, higher species. 


I am not sufficiently versed in science to tell you whether the ideas of 
Hans Moravec in robotics, or the work of Drexler in nanotechnology, or 
the ideas of Broecker, Stix, and Sadler for solving our atmospheric prob- 
lems, or for that matter, the work of the genetic engineers, can possibly 
prove practical and achievable. But I do know this. The greatest univer- 
sities in this country — Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, Princeton — 
provide these projects funding and housing and a platform to speak from. 


I8 7 

The United States military — particularly the Navy — backs many of these 
researchers with multimillion-dollar grants. Giant corporations hunger to 
patent the concepts and exploit the finished products. Major publishers 
produce books extolling these ideas. Serious newspapers, journals, and 
magazines reverently review and report on the most recent advances. 

All of these institutions can support these new modes of technological 
expression because the ideas are in every way consistent with the logic and 
the assumptions by which our society has operated for the past several 

These were the same assumptions that were employed by the Worlds 
Fair planners of the 1930s, the ad agencies of the fifties and sixties, the 
Disney "imagineers" at EPCOT Center, and the people who envision Uto- 
pian worlds of space colonies. Today s technological pioneers consider 
themselves original thinkers, but they are only the latest in a long line of 
advocates for the same set of propositions, the most prominent of which 
is that nature sets no limits on the degree to which humans may intervene 
in and alter the natural world. Manifesting the arrogance of Technological 
Man, the technopioneers assume they are authorized to go anywhere and 
rearrange anything, including alterations in the structure of human life, 
animal life, and now natural form itself. 

In doing so, they are acting in service to the fundamental principle that 
has informed technical evolution in the modern era: If it can be done, do 
it. There are no boundaries, no rules, no sets of standards by which to 
moderate these activities. No sense of right or wrong, no taboos; there's 
only what will succeed in the marketplace. (Perhaps abandoning human 
biology will not sell — is that our only hope?) 

The assumptions have been gaining strength for thousands of years, fed 
both by Judeo-Christian religious doctrines that have de-sanctified the 
earth and placed humans in domination over it; and by technologies that, 
by their apparent power, have led us to believe we are some kind of royalty 
over nature, exercising Divine will. We have lost the understanding that 
existed in all civilizations prior to ours, and that continues to exist on Earth 
today in societies that live side by side with our own; we have lost a sense 
of the sacredness of the natural world. The new technologists don't accept 
this notion; they live in a world that is removed from it; they themselves 
have lost touch with the source of that knowledge. They find it silly. 

What is true for the new technologists has sadly become true for most 
people in the Western world. Having bought the idea that all problems 
can and should be solved by technology, never thinking back to any alter- 
native knowledge that could provide a point of contrast, and not even 


knowing that alternative knowledge exists, we too have spun outward, 
away from the source, oft into space, isolated from that knowledge hy con- 
crete and machines. Each new level of technical invention has taken us 
further away from the source. Each invention has spawned others, placing 
us ever deeper within technical consciousness and further away from or- 
ganic reality, to the point where we can seriously consider ahandoning the 
planet, abandoning nature, abandoning our bodies. These ideas are dis- 
cussed and considered by intellectual leaders, as if such notions are sane. 

Our entire society has begun to suffer the madness of the astronaut; 
uprooted, floating in space, encased in our metal worlds, with automated 
systems neatly at hand, communicating mainly with machines, following 
machine logic, disconnected from the earth and all organic reality, without 
contact with a multidimensional, biologically diverse world and with the 
nuances of world views entirely unlike our own, unable to view ourselves 
from another perspective, we are alienated to the nth degree. Like the as- 
tronaut, we don't know up from down, in from out. Our world and our 
thought processes are confined to technical boundaries. In such a state 
many insane ideas and solutions can seem logical because there are no stan- 
dards by which to compare them. All invention, if achievable, becomes 
plausible, and even desirable, since it is part of the commitment we have 
already made, even if the commitment leads logically to reorganizing our 
genes, our trees, and our skies; and possibly abandoning the planet and 
life itself. 


Given the scale of the technologically caused environmental problems 
we now face; and given the scale of the technological fixes that have been 
proposed; and given the scale and implications of the new technological 
forms, one would assume these subjects would be hotly debated. As we 
have seen, they are not. Technology continues to be introduced and de- 
scribed by the people who stand to benefit most from its acceptance, and 
who deliver their visions in Utopian form. The public is uninvolved; there 
are no forums for argument. No pros and cons. No referenda. Presidential 
candidates only mention the issues in passing references to solving the acid 
rain problem, or limiting oil drilling. By the time the body politic becomes 
aware of problems with technology, it is usually after they are well in- 
stalled in the system and their effects are too late to reverse. Only now, four 
decades after the introduction of computers, are there any rumblings of 


discontent, any realizations of their full implications. By the time the 
alarm finally goes off, technologies have intertwined with one another to 
create yet another generation of machines, which makes unraveling them 
near to impossible, even if society had the will to do it. 

As the interlocking and interweaving and spawning of new technolo- 
gies take place, the weave of technology becomes ever tighter and more 
difficult to separate. For example, without computers, it would be impos- 
sible to have satellites, nuclear power, genetics, space technology, military 
lasers, information technologies, or nanotechnology. And because of com- 
puters, all of these technologies are intertwined with one another. We con- 
tinue to view them as if they were separate, discrete systems, but they 
aren't. Computers are at the base of them all, and also plug them into one 
another and into central systems of management and institutional control, 
made larger than ever before possible. In fact, the whole complex web of 
systems ought properly to be thought of as one technology that effectively 
encircles the globe, and that can instantaneously communicate with all 
its parts. Rather than a biosphere, we have a technosphere. Call it 

• • • 

There is no conspiracy here, at least not in the usual sense. Human beings 
did not set out to create such a worldwide, interlocked technological entity. 
But at each stage human beings followed the logic of technical evolution, 
which seeks to expand its power over nature, and to employ other tech- 
nologies to be reborn into ever newer, larger, more impactful forms; to 
strengthen the web of connection. 

It is true that there are human beings who sit near the hub of the pro- 
cess, and who make deals with each other, and who advertise the process 
at such places as EPCOT, and who benefit financially if they can steer the 
process a certain way. But they are not really in charge. Technological evo- 
lution leads inevitably to its own next stages, which can be altered only 
slightly. The invention of the computer inevitably implied the invention 
of the supercomputer and its ability to spawn a thousand other high tech- 
nologies, with their vast social and political consequences. It didn't matter 
who put the money down to further the process. The people and the ma- 
chine were inside the technical project together; they were the same. If 
there was a conspiracy here, it is only one in the Ellulian sense; a dt facto 
conspiracy; a conspiracy of technical form. 

In any event, the result is a worldwide technical creature that includes 
us in its functioning: the way our minds operate, the way we perceive al- 



ternatives, what we imagine are good and bad ideas. We have entered into 
a universe that has been re-formed by machines; we are a species that lives 
its life within mechanistic creations; our environment is a product of our 
minds. Locked inside our cities and suburbs, working in our offices, con- 
trolling and conceptualizing nature as a raw material for our consump- 
tion, and now even including ourselves as raw material suitable for 
redevelopment, we are at one with the process. 

If we have a worldwide technical creature, then computers are its ner- 
vous system. Television is the way human minds are made compatible with 
the system and identical with one another; it is the sales system, and the 
audiovisual training mechanism. Genetics has the role of reworking the 
biological structures to maximize economic potential. And nanotechnol- 
ogy and robotics make the leap beyond biology. 

All of these technologies result from and are in service to the overall 
Utopian conception: a technological vision of a single world-machine that 
looks and feels something like EPCOT Center or the bubble domes of 
space stations. Everything figured out. Everything planned. Everything 
created. The apparent purpose of this machine is to eliminate human ail- 
ments and human unhappiness (assuming we still have humans), to ex- 
pand the human potential, and to create a world of abundance for human 
enjoyment. But the unstated purpose is to fulfill the inherent drive of tech- 
nological society to feed its own evolutionary cravings, to expand its dom- 
ination of both Earth and space, and to complete the utter conversion of 
nature into commodity form — even the part of nature that remains wild 
within human genes and molecular structures. 

That's the bad news. 

The good news is that even "perfect" technological systems are showing 
signs of leakage and fraud. Technological society, during the past half- 
century, has demonstrably not achieved the benefits it advertised for itself. 
Peace, security, public and planetary health, sanity, happiness, fulfillment 
are arguably less close at hand than they ever were in the past. And the 
awful sacrifices that the planet has made to satisfy the cravings of the tech- 
nological thrust are now becoming visible in oil spills, global warming, 
ozone depletion, toxic pollution, and deforestation, all of which affect our 
sense of well-being in everyday life. 

As a society we have been slow learners, but there is an emerging aware- 
ness that we may have been led down the garden path by false advertising 
toward a fantasy world, created by romantics who had an economic stake 
in our accepting their dream. The question now is: Will, the new skeptics 
and advocates of alternative paths become prominent enough to be suffi- 


I 9 I 

ciently heard, and to create a critical mass of public opinion? We'll see. At 
this moment the situation is not promising. We still have not developed an 
effective language with which to articulate our critiques. This, in turn, is 
because we ourselves are part of the machine and so we have difficulty 
defining its shape and its direction. But even if we have this difficulty, there 
are societies of people on this planet who do not. 


Millions of people still alive on this earth never wished to be part of this 
machine and, in many cases, are not. I am speaking of people who have 
lived on the fringes of the technical world. They have remained outside 
of our awareness, either because they live in obscure places, or their re- 
sources have not been coveted by technological society, or because many 
millions of them have been murdered or otherwise silenced. But they are 
still aware of certain fundamental truths, the most important of which 
require reverence for the earth — an idea that is subversive to Western so- 
ciety and the entire technological direction of the past century. 

These are people whose ancestors and who themselves have said from 
the beginning of the technological age that our actions and attitudes are 
fatally flawed, since they are not grounded in a real understanding of how 
to live on the earth. Lacking a sense of the sacred we were doomed to a 
bad result. They said it over and over and they still say it now. 

The following is an excerpt from A Basic Call to Consciousness, the Hau 
de no sau nee [Iroquois] Address to the Western World, delivered at the 1977 
UN Conference on Indigenous Peoples, published by Ahjvesasne Notes. 

In the beginning we were told that the human beings who walk 
about on the Earth have been provided with all the things necessary 
for life. We were instructed to carry a love for one another, and to 
show a great respect for all the beings of this Earth. We were shown 
that our life exists with the tree life, that our well-being depends on 
the well-being of the Vegetable Life, that we are close relatives of the 
four-legged beings. 

The original instructions direct that we who walk about on Earth 
are to express a great respect, an affection and a gratitude toward all 
the spirits which create and support Life. . . . When people cease to 
respect and express gratitude for these many things, then all life will 
be destroyed, and human life on this planet will come to an end. 



. . . To this day the territories we still hold are filled with trees, 
animals, and the other gifts from the Creation. In these places we still 
receive our nourishment from our Mother Earth. . . . 

The Indo-European people who have colonized our lands have 
shown very little respect for the things that create and support Life. 
We believe that these people ceased their respect for the world a long 
time ago. Many thousands of years ago, all the people of the world 
believed in the same Way of Life, that of harmony with the Uni- 
verse. All lived according to the Natural Ways. 

Today the [human] species of Man is facing a question of [its] very 
survival. . . . The way of life known as Western Civilization is on a 
death path on which their own culture has no viable answers. When 
faced with the reality of their own destructiveness, they can only go 
forward into areas of more efficient destruction. 

The air is foul, the waters poisoned, the trees dying, the animals 
are disappearing. We think even the systems of weather are chang- 
ing. Our ancient teaching warned us that if Man interfered with the 
Natural laws, these things would come to be. When the last of the 
Natural Way of Life is gone, all hope for human survival will be 
gone with it. And our Way of Life is fast disappearing, a victim of 
the destructive processes. 

The technologies and social systems which destroyed the animal 
and the plant life are destroying the Native people. . . . We know 
there are many people in the world who can quickly grasp the intent 
of our message. But our experience has taught us that there are few 
who are willing to seek out a method for moving toward any real 

The majority of the world does not find its roots in Western cul- 
ture or tradition. The majority of the world finds its roots in the Nat- 
ural World, and it is the Natural World, and the traditions of the 
Natural World, which must prevail. 

We must all consciously and continuously challenge every model, 
every program, and every process that the West tries to force upon 
us. . . . The people who are living on this planet need to break with 
the narrow concept of human liberation, and begin to see liberation 
as something that needs to be extended to the whole of the Natural 
World. What is needed is the liberation of all things that support 
Life — the air, the waters, the trees — all the things which support the 
sacred web of Life. 

The Native people of the Western Hemisphere can contribute to 


the survival potential of the human species. The majority of our 
peoples still live in accordance with the traditions which find their 
roots in the Mother Earth. But the Native people have need of a 
forum in which our voice can be heard. And we need alliances with 
the other people of the world to assist in our struggle to regain and 
maintain our ancestral lands and to protect the Way of Life we 

The traditional Native people hold the key to the reversal of the 
processes in Western Civilization, which hold the promise of un- 
imaginable future suffering and destruction. Spiritualism is the 
highest form of political consciousness. And we, the Native people 
of the Western Hemisphere, are among the world's surviving pro- 
prietors of that kind of consciousness. . . . Our culture is among the 
most ancient continuously existing cultures in the world. We are the 
spiritual guardians of this place. We are here to impart that message. 



^ince the beginnings of the technological juggernaut, the only con- 
lj sistent opposition has come from land-based native peoples. Rooted in an 
alternative view of the planet, Indians, islanders, and peoples of the North re- 
main our most clear-minded critics. They are also our most direct victims. That 
technological society should ignore and suppress native voices is understandable, 
since to heed them would suggest we must fundamentally change our way of 
life. Instead, we say they must change. They decline to do so. 

1 1 


/n 1 98 i, when my sons Yari and Kai were attending San Francisco's 
Lowell High School, they complained to me that their American His- 
tory class began with the arrival of whites on this continent and omitted 
any mention of the people who were already here. The class was taught 
that Columbus "discovered" America and that American "history" was 
what came afterward. 

That same year, Ronald Reagan gave his first inaugural speech, in 
which he praised the "brave pioneers who tamed the empty wilderness." 
Still, I was surprised to hear that the wilderness was also empty for the 
faculty at Lowell High, a school usually considered among the top public 
high schools in this country. 

The American History teacher asked my kids why they were so keen 
on the subject of Indians, leading them to mention the book I was plan- 
ning to write. This in turn led to an invitation for me to speak to the class. 
As a result, I got some insight about the level of Indian awareness among 
a group of high-school kids. 

The youngsters I met had never been offered one course, or even an 
extended segment of a course, about the Indian nations of this continent, 
about Indian-Anglo interactions (except for references to the Pilgrims and 
the Indian wars), or about contemporary Indian problems in the U.S. or 
elsewhere. These teenagers knew as little as I did at their age, and as little 
as their teacher knew at their age — or now, as he regretfully acknowl- 
edged to me. The American educational curriculum is almost bereft of 



information about Indians, making it difficult for young non-Indian 
Americans to understand or care about present-day Indian issues. Euro- 
pean schools actually teach more about American Indians. In Germany, 
for example, every child reads a set of books that sensitizes them to Indian 
values and causes. It is not surprising, therefore, that the European press 
carries many more stories about American Indians than does the Ameri- 
can press. 

In the sixty minutes I was allotted to speak to the Lowell class, I tried 
to communicate five points: 1) there were a lot of Indians living here be- 
fore whites arrived; 2) they were not "savages" but lived in very well or- 
ganized, stable societies spanning thousands of years; 3) the white 
European settlers killed most of the Indians on the continent, and mas- 
sively stole from the rest; 4) nonetheless, there are still many Indians 
within the United States facing problems similar to those faced by their 
ancestors; and 5) there are millions of Indians (and other native people) all 
over the world. 

I posted one of the excellent maps prepared by the Bureau of Indian 
Affairs (BIA), showing Indian land areas prior to the arrival of white col- 
onists. The students were shocked to learn that nearly every acre of what 
is now the United States was once part of some Indian nation. I pointed 
out that by the time this map was drawn, some of the Indian nations had 
been in place for thousands of years. So much for "empty wilderness." 

Some of the Iroquois tribes have been living in the northern U.S. for at 
least 5,000 years. In the Southwest, the Hopi Indians are estimated to have 
been living in what is now called the Four Corners area (the junction of 
Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah) for at least 10,000 years. 
(Some archeologists have lately put the Hopi arrival as long as 40,000 years 
ago. The Hopi themselves say, as do many Indian nations, that they did 
not "arrive" at all; that their genesis was in the Grand Canyon.) 

Whatever the millennium, Indian people were living on this continent 
thousands of years before the Hebrews came down from the steppes into 
what is now the Middle East; long before Christ, long before the estab- 
lishment of European nations, and very long before Columbus. 

By 1776, when the United States was established, about 100 Indian na- 
tions had survived the slaughter of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seven- 
teenth centuries, and some two to five million Indian people (depending 
upon whose estimate you accept) were living in the "lower forty-eight" 
states, speaking more than 750 distinct languages. In California alone — 
where climate and conditions were hospitable — more than 200,000 Indi- 
ans lived in several hundred "subtribes," each with its own language. And 



in Hawaii in 1776, there were still, by the most conservative estimates, at 
least 300,000 natives. By 1830 the number was reduced to 80,000 because 
of massacres and diseases brought by the white followers of Captain Cook. 

When 1 got to this point in my lecture, one of the students asked, "What 
do you mean by the word 'nation,' as applied to Indian tribes?" 

The definition of "nation," by such international organizations as the 
United Nations and the World Court, includes the following components: 
common culture and heritage, common language, stable geographic locale 
over time, internal laws of behavior that are accepted by members of the 
community, boundaries recognized by other nations, and formal agree- 
ments (treaties) with other nations. By those standards, Indian "nations" 
were and are just that. Moreover, the colonial powers on this continent — 
the British, French, and Spanish — openly recognized the Indian nations 
as such and made treaties with them, affirming boundaries, mutual alli- 
ances, peace, and friendship, as well as land exchanges and concessions. 
The Indian nations also made thousands of treaties with each other. 

From the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries, the United 
States made 370 formal treaties with Indian nations, following the same 
procedure of congressional and presidential approval that was followed 
with France or Great Britain. There were no distinctions between Indian 
treaties and any others; all became the "law of the land" as the Constitu- 
tion requires. The fact that we violated virtually all of these Indian treaties 
resulted from our feeling that we could get away with such violations, that 
the violations were acceptable in the eyes of the European community of 
nations, and that the U.S. would not be as heavily criticized as we would 
if we violated treaties with Spain or England. Clearly there was a sense 
that Indians are somehow not people in the same category as the English, 
and so deals with them can be made in a less earnest fashion. 

European doubts about the peoplehood of Indians extend back to the 
murderous explorations of Hernando Cortez in the mid 1500s, among the 
Indians of Central America and Mexico. The fate of the Indians became 
the subject of fierce disagreements within the Catholic Church. The ar- 
gument became focused in the historic sixteenth-century debates between 
Spanish scholar Juan Gines de Sepulveda and Dominican friar Bartolome 
de las Casas, as to whether Indians had souls and ought to be saved for the 
Church, or whether they should be slaughtered or made into slaves. Se- 
pulveda argued the Aristotelian viewpoint that some people are born to 
slavery. De las Casas, who had traveled in Mexico with Cortez, and had 
been impressed with the Indians, was horrified at the invaders' brutality. 
He argued that murder and slavery contradicted the Gospels. Pope Pius V 



finally sided with de las Casas in 1566, ruling that Indians should be con- 
verted rather than killed. Apparently no consideration was given to per- 
mitting Indians to live as they had before the Spanish invasion. 

By the eighteenth century, the case for Indian inferiority was no longer 
predicated on the issue of souls, but on the fact that Indians had no concept 
of private property: their religions were based on nature, they lived by sub- 
sistence economics, and they believed that rocks, trees, and the earth were 
alive. Such beliefs were held to be prima facie evidence that Indians were 
less evolved than Europeans and that they stood against the tide of history. 
That viewpoint has not fundamentally changed for the last 300 years. 

Next on my agenda at Lowell High was a discussion of Indian govern- 
mental structures. Like most Americans, the young high-school students 
assumed that Indian or aboriginal people had no forms of government 
other than despotic chiefs, like the Shaka Zulu characterization we've seen 
on television. This lack of information about Indian governments repre- 
sents another tragic omission from American education, since many In- 
dian governmental forms were highly evolved and democratic. Some of 
them, notably the Iroquois, apparently had considerable effect upon con- 
cepts later incorporated into the U.S. Articles of Confederation and the 
Constitution. The systems of checks and balances, popular participation 
in decision-making, direct representation, states' rights, and bicameral leg- 
islatures were all part of the Great Binding Law of the Iroquois Confed- 
eracy, dating back to the 1400s, as will be described later. But there may 
not be one American in ten thousand who knows this. 

Another shocking fact was that very few of the students were aware of 
the degree to which, or how recently, Indian lands had been expropriated. 
Between 1776 and the late 1800s, Indian land holdings were reduced by 
about 95 percent, from about three million to 200,000 square miles. This 
was accomplished in a variety of ways, from massacres to duplicitous 
treaty-making. Some treaties exacted land cessions in exchange for guar- 
antees of safety and permanent reserves, but these treaties were soon vio- 
lated. Usually the Indians were driven off because the settlers wanted gold 
or farmland or mineral rights or railroad rights. Wherever there was re- 
sistance, the cavalry insured compliance. All of this was in the cause of 
Manifest Destiny: God willed it. 

My hour was nearly gone. I had only enough time left to say that, while 
ignoring the past reality of the Indians is bad enough, ignoring the current 
situation is worse. In this country there are still one and a half million In- 
dian people, more than half of whom live on the lands where their ances- 
tors lived thousands of years ago. Some of these Indians maintain 


20 1 

traditions that have survived for millennia. But, when the U.S. govern- 
ment or a corporation seeks to get oil, coal, or copper from Indian land, 
they behave exactly as they always have. Since the Custer period, the meth- 
ods have switched from violent assault to "legal" manipulations that sep- 
arate Indians from their lands as surely as the guns once did. I gave the 
students three brief examples: 

• The Dawes Act (i88j). Provided that individual Indians could now own 
their own plots of land. Hailed as a liberal reform when introduced, the 
real purpose and effect of the law was to break the communal-tribal 
ownership of land. Tribes were rarely, if ever, willing to sell land. But 
individuals could be persuaded to sell, for cash, guns, or liquor. Millions 
of acres moved from Indian to white ownership. 

• The Indian Reorganization Act (1934). Another liberal reform, it offered 
U.S. assistance in converting Indian governments to "modern demo- 
cratic" systems. Like the Dawes Act half a century earlier, this law was 
designed to break the hold of traditional Indian governance — based on 
slow-moving consensus processes — because it invariably led to refusal to 
negotiate leases for oil, coal, gas, and other minerals that the U.S. was 
seeking. "Democracy" had nothing to do with it. In fact, as the new 
American-style governments were put into place, the great majority of 
Indians refused to participate in the voting. This enabled the Bureau of 
Indian Affairs to train and run its own compliant candidates — ready to 
make deals — who were elected by the tiny handful of Indians willing to 
participate in the alien process. As a result, corporations gained inexpen- 
sive access to Indian resources, and the new Indian tribal councils effec- 
tively became part of the U.S. bureaucracy, as most still are, though a 
sizeable resistance on many reservations now threatens this cozy 

• The Indian Claims Act (1946). Theoretically established to settle Indian 
grievances about stolen lands, in practice the Indian Claims Commission 
is a fraud. The commission refuses all requests to grant land title to In- 
dians, offering only compensation for lands that it determines were lost 
by Indians (at per-acre rates that are often a century old). So Indians en- 
tering claims to land find that accepting payment amounts to a perma- 
nent extinguishing of their aboriginal title, which is the opposite result 
of the one they sought. 

I ended my talk by mentioning that there are hundreds of millions of 
indigenous people all over the world who continue to live on their ances- 



tral lands, and who experience varying degrees of domination by invading 
colonial interests. Most of these people are suffering even more violent as- 
saults than were visited upon American Indians a century ago. As in the 
past, these acts are justified by an assumption of cultural and spiritual su- 
periority and by the fact that the Indians stand in the way of the orderly 
progress of technological and industrial development. 
The bell rang. The kids leapt up. Out the door to lunch. 


That the Lowell High students should know nothing about Indians is 
not their fault. It is one of many indicators that this country's institutions 
do not inform people about Indians of either present or past. Indians are 
non-history, which also makes them non-news. Not taught in schools, not 
part of American consciousness, their present-day activities and struggles 
are rarely reported in newspapers or on television. 

On the rare occasions when the media do relate to Indians, the reports 
tend to follow very narrow guidelines based on pre-existing stereotypes of 
Indians; they become what is known in the trade as "formula stories." 

My friend Dagmar Thorpe, a Sac-and-Fox Indian who, until 1990, was 
Executive Director of the Seventh Generation Fund, once asked a network 
producer known to be friendly to the Indian cause about the reasons for 
the lack of in-depth, accurate reporting on Indian stories. According to 
Dagmar, the producer gave three reasons. The first reason was guilt. It is 
not considered good programming to make your audience feel bad. Amer- 
icans don't want to see shows that remind them of historical events that 
American institutions have systematically avoided discussing. 

Secondly, there is the "whatVin-it-for-me?" factor. Americans in gen- 
eral do not see how anything to do with Indians has anything to do with 
them. As a culture, we are now so trained to "look out for number one" 
that there has been a near total loss of altruism. (Of course American life 
itself — so speedy and so removed from nature — makes identifying with 
the Indians terribly difficult; and we don't see that we might have some- 
thing to learn from them.) 

The third factor is that Indian demands seem preposterous to Ameri- 
cans. What most Indians want is simply that their land should be returned, 
and that treaties should be honored. Americans tend to view the treaties 
as "ancient," though many were made less than a century ago — more re- 
cently, for example, than many well-established laws and land deals 



among whites. Americans, like their government and the media, view 
treaties with Indian nations differently than treaties with anyone else. 

• • • 

In fairness to the media, there are some mitigating factors. Just like the 
rest of us, reporters and producers have been raised without knowledge 
of Indian history or Indian struggles. Perhaps most important, media 
people have had little personal contact with Indians, since Indians live 
mostly in parts of the country, and the world, where the media isn't. In- 
dians live in non-urban regions, in the deserts and mountains and tundras 
that have been impacted least by Western society, at least until recently. 
They live in the places that we didn't want. They are not part of the main- 
stream and have not tried to become part. 

When our society does extend its tentacles to make contact — usually 
when corporations are seeking land or minerals, or military forces are 
seeking control — there is little media present to observe and report on 
what transpires. Even in the United States, virtually all Indian struggles 
take place far away from media: in the central Arizona desert, in the rug- 
ged Black Hills, the mountains of the Northwest, or else on tiny Pacific 
islands, or in the icy vastness of the far north of Alaska. The New Yor^ 
Times has no bureau in those places; neither does CBS. Nor do they have 
bureaus in the Australian desert or the jungles of Brazil, Guatemala, or 

As a result, some of the most terrible assaults upon native peoples today 
never get reported. If reports do emerge, the sources are the corporate or 
military public relations arms of the Western intruders, which present 
biased perspectives. 

When reporters are flown in to someplace where Indians are making 
news, they are usually ill prepared and unknowledgeable about the local 
situation. They do not speak the language and are hard pressed to grasp 
the Indian perception, even if they can find Indians to speak with. In ad- 
dition, these reporters often grew up in that same bubble of no contact/no 
education/no news about Indians. 

To make matters even more difficult, as I explained at length in my TV 
book, it is also in the nature of modern media to distort the Indian mes- 
sage, which is far too subtle, sensory, complex, spiritual, and ephemeral to 
fit the gross guidelines of mass-media reporting, which emphasizes con- 
flict and easily grasped imagery. A reporter would have to spend a great 
deal of time with the Indians to understand why digging up the earth for 
minerals is a sacrilege, or why diverting a stream can destroy a culture, or 



why cutting a forest deprives people of their religious and human rights, 
or why moving Indians off desert land to a wonderful new community of 
private homes will effectively kill them. Even if the reporter does under- 
stand, to successfully translate that understanding through the medium, 
and through the editors and the commercial sponsors — all of whom are 
looking for action — is nearly impossible. 

So most reporters have little alternative but to accept official handouts, 
or else to patch together, from scanty reports, stories that are designed for 
a world predisposed to view Indian struggles as anomalies in today's tech- 
nological world: formula stories, using stereotyped imagery. 


The dominant image of Indians in the media used to be of savages, of 
John Wayne leading the U.S. Cavalry against the Indians. Today the ster- 
eotype has shifted to noble savage, which portrays Indians as part of a 
once-great but now-dying culture; a culture that could talk to the trees 
and the animals and that protected nature. But sadly, a losing culture, 
which has not kept up with our dynamic times. 

We see this stereotype now in many commercials. The Indian is on a 
horse, gazing nobly over the land he protects. Then there's a quick cut to 
today: to oil company workers walking alongside the hot-oil pipeline in 
Alaska. The company workers are there to protect against leaks and to 
preserve the environment for the animals. We see quick cuts of caribou 
and wolves, which imply that the oil company accepts the responsibility 
that the Indians once had. 

The problem here is that the corporate sponsor is lying. It does not feel 
much responsibility toward nature; if it did, it would not need expensive 
commercials to say so, because the truth would be apparent from its be- 
havior. More important, however, is that treating Indians this way in com- 
mercials does terrible harm to their cause. It makes Indians into conceptual 
relics; artifacts. Worse, they are confirmed as existing only in the past, 
which hurts their present efforts. 

Another stereotype we see in commercials these days is the Indtan-as- 
guru, A recent TV spot depicted a shaman making rain for his people. He 
is then hired by some corporate farmers to make rain for them. He is 
shown with his power objects, saying prayers, holding his hands toward 
the heavens. The rains come. Handshakes from the businessmen. Finally 



the wise old Indian is shown with a satisfied smile on his flight home via 
United Airlines. 

Among the more insidious formula stories is the one about how Indians 
are always fighting each other over disputed lands. This formula fits the 
Western paradigm about non-industrial peoples' inability to govern them- 
selves; that they live in some kind of despotism or anarchy. For example, 
in the Hopi-Navajo "dispute" (to which a part of Chapter 15 is devoted), 
the truth of the matter is that U.S. intervention in the activities and gov- 
ernments of both tribes eventually led to American-style puppet govern- 
ments battling each other for development rights that the traditional 
leadership of each tribe does not want. But the historical reality of that 
case, and most Indian cases, is unknown to the mass media and therefore 
left unreported. 

Another very popular formula story is the one with the headline Indi- 
ans stand in the way of development, as, for example, in New Guinea 
or Borneo or in the Amazon Basin. These stories concern Indian resistance 
to roads, or dams, or the cutting of forests, and their desire for their lands 
to be left inviolate. 

The problem with these formula stories is not that they are inaccu- 
rate — Indian peoples around the world most certainly are resisting on 
hundreds of fronts and do indeed stand in the way of development — but 
that the style of reporting carries a sense of foregone conclusion. The re- 
porters tend to emphasize the poignancy of the situation: "stone-age 1 * 
peoples fighting in vain to forestall the inevitable march of progress. In 
their view, it is only a matter of time before the Indians lose, and the forests 
are cut down, and the land is settled by outsiders. However tragic the in- 
vasion, however righteous the cause of the Indians, however illegal the acts 
being perpetrated against them, however admirable the Indian ways, re- 
porters will invariably adopt the stance that the cause is lost, and that no 
reversal is possible. This attitude surely harms the Indians more than it 
the story had not been reported at all. 

Finally, and perhaps most outrageous, is the rich Indian formula story. 
Despite the fact that the average per-capita income of Indians is lower 
than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, and that they 
suffer the highest disease rates in many categories, and have the least access 
to health care, the press loves to focus on the rare instance where some 
Indian hits it big. Sometimes the story is about an oil well found on some 
Indian's land, or someone getting rich on bingo, but often the stories em- 
phasize someone's corruption, e.g., Peter MacDonald, the former chair- 
man of the Navajo Nation. This formula story has a twofold purpose: it 



manages to confirm the greatness of America — where anyone can get 
rich, even an Indian — and at the same time manages to confirm Indian 
leaders as corrupt and despotic. 

A corollary to this story is how certain Indian tribes have gotten wealthy 
through land claims cases, as, for example, the Alaska natives via the 
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. As we will see, a little digging into 
the story — if reporters only would — exposes that settlement as a fraud 
that actually deprived the Alaska natives of land and money. 

The press's failure to pursue and report the full picture of American 
Indian poverty, while splashing occasional stories about how some are hit- 
ting it big, creates a public impression that is the opposite of the truth. The 
situation is exacerbated when national leaders repeat the misconceptions. 
Ronald Reagan told the Moscow press in 1987 that there was no discrim- 
ination against Indians in this country and the proof of that was that so 
many Indians, like those outside Palm Springs (oil wells), have become 


While most of our society manages to avoid Indians, there is one group 
that does not, though its interest is very measured. 

I was reminded of this recently during my first visit to a dentist in 
Marin County, an affluent area north of San Francisco. The dentist, a 
friendly, trendy young man wearing a moustache, looked as if he'd 
stepped out of a Michelob ad. While poking my gums, he made pleasant 
conversation, inquiring about my work. When he pulled his tools from 
my mouth, I told him I was writing about Indians, which got him very 
excited. "Indians! Great! I love Indians. Indians are my hobby. I have In- 
dian posters all over the house, and Indian rugs. And hey, I've lately been 
taking lessons in 'tracking' from this really neat Indian guide. I've learned 
how to read the tiniest changes in the terrain, details I'd never even noticed 

In this expression of enthusiasm, this young man was like thousands of 
other people, particularly in places like Marin or Beverly Hills, or wherever 
there is sufficient leisure to engage in inner explorations. Among this 
group, which tends to identify with the "New Age," or the "human po- 
tential movement," there has been a renaissance of awareness about Indian 
practices that aid inner spiritual awakening. 

A typical expression of this interest may be that a well-off young profes- 



sional couple will invite friends to a lawn party to meet the couple's per- 
sonal Indian medicine person. The shaman will lead the guests through a 
series of rituals designed to awaken aspects of themselves. These events 
may culminate in a sweat ceremony, or even a "firewalk." There was a pe- 
riod in the seventies when you could scarcely show up at a friend's house 
without having to decide whether or not to walk on hot coals, guided by 
a medicine man from the South Pacific. 

Those who graduate from sweat ceremonies or firewalks, as my dentist 
had, might proceed to the now popular "vision quests." You may feel as 
you read this that I am ridiculing these "human potential" explorers. Ac- 
tually, I find something admirable in them. Breaking out of the strictures 
of our contemporary lifestyles is clearly beneficial, in my opinion, but there 
is also a serious problem. For although the New Age gleans the ancient 
wisdoms and practices, it has assiduously avoided directly engaging in the 
actual lives and political struggles of the millions of descendants who carry 
on those ancient traditions, who are still alive on the planet today, and who 
want to continue living in a traditional manner. 

• • • 

The roots of the current New Age Indian revival lie in the hippie period 
of the 1960s, and in early drug explorations. In that era, young people 
sought to define new modes of being that were non-acquisitive, spiritually 
oriented, non-hierarchical, tribal, communal. The hippie community did 
have some awareness of the political dimensions of Indian societies. In 
fact, many of the hippie activists, now thirty years older, continue to show 
up when a meeting is called by Indians trying to spread the word of a 
problem. It is still Wavy Gravy's Hog Farm that goes down to help the 
elders at Big Mountain on the Navajo reservation. It is still the Grateful 
Dead who play at the benefits. 

It was also during the sixties that Carlos Castaneda offered, through his 
books, a window into a different reality construct. I was among the people 
in those days who found Castaneda's work fascinating and important. 
Castaneda did not avoid political realities. In each of his books, Don Juan, 
and sometimes others among the shamans, spoke passionately about the 
prejudices they experienced as children. But few reviewers commented on 
those passages; they were not the reason the books were devoured. 

Castaneda was able to immerse millions of Americans in a system of 
logic truly different from our own. He created Indian heroes who were 
irresistible to middle-class whites seeking a pathway out of rigid Western 
modes of thinking. He led millions of readers through experiences dc- 



signed to reveal unknown dimensions of our nature. And he did all this 
by imitating Indian storytelling style. Like the stories, myths, and histories 
Castaneda emulated, it scarcely mattered to what extent the characters 
were real or not real. They were teaching systems. They brought us a new 
way of mind, and they delivered experiences, images, and perspectives that 
ran counter to the prevailing imagery and paradigms of our society. In 
these ways, the books approximated Indian thought, and were subversive 
and political, even dangerous. 

Americans went for them like dry roots seeking water. We still do. For 
like Castaneda himself, born of Indian heritage in an increasingly West- 
ernized Peru, we are all caught between chairs. Drawn to the subjective, 
longing for the naturalistic, the moody, the sensory, the mythic, the mag- 
ical, and desiring to integrate these elements in our lives, we are stuck in 
a world of concrete, time-bound, homocentric, mechanical logic. Casta- 
neda's images, like firewalking and sweat lodges, offered pathways back 
to nature within ourselves. 

But however enlightening this may be, confining our knowledge of In- 
dians to their "spiritual" pathways continues to deny what is most impor- 
tant to the Indian people. While we experience and explore Indian-ness in 
ourselves, Indian people experience our culture in terms of its drives to 
expand and to dominate nature and natural people. We have managed to 
isolate one or two aspects of Indian life — the spiritual aspect and some- 
times the art — and to separate these from the rest of the Indian experience, 
which is something Indian people themselves would never do. It is a fun- 
damental tenet of Indian perception that the spiritual aspect of life is in- 
separable from the economic and the political. No Indian person could 
ever make the kind of split we wish to make for them. So why do we? 

For one thing, it is a way that we can skim the "cream" — arts, culture, 
spiritual wisdom — off the Indian experience. We can collect it for our mu- 
seums, while discarding whatever we find in it that challenges the way we 
live our lives. We can make ourselves feel good about "saving" something 
Indian, as if it were meaningful support for living Indians. 

It is little wonder, of course, that we choose such a course. The average 
person does not seek information that will make him or her feel badly. In 
fact, if we ever became more personally engaged than at present, and let 
into our hearts and minds the full spectrum of horrors that Indian people 
have faced, and still face; if we ever accepted that American corporate 
and military interests and surely American commodity and technological 
visions drive the juggernaut, the pain of these realizations would be over- 
whelming. So instead, we avoid the subject, which allows us to avoid re- 


examining the premises upon which our current lives and this society are 
based, premises that sanction the destructive behavior against nature and 
native peoples that is now rampant. 


There is yet a deeper widespread rationalization for our avoidance of 
Indians and the news they bring us. On some level we think that however 
beautiful Indian culture once was, however inspiring their religious ideas, 
however artistic their creations and costumes, however wise their choices 
of life within nature, our own society has advanced beyond that stage of 
evolution. They are the "primitive" stage and we have grown beyond 
them. They have not adapted as we have. This makes us superior. We are 
the survivors. We are the "cutting edge." 

A good friend of mine (who now works in television) put it this way: 
"There is no getting around the fact that the Indian way is a losing way. 
They are no longer appropriate for the times. They are anomalies." 

In saying this, my friend was essentially blaming the Indians themselves 
for the situation that befell them. They failed to adapt their lifestyle and 
belief systems to keep up with changing times. Most importantly, they 
failed to keep up with technological change. They were not competitive. 

This statement reflects a Darwinist, capitalist outlook of survival of the 
fittest, with fitness now defined in terms of technological capability. If you 
can use the machine better than the next fellow or the next culture, you 
survive and they die. This may be sad, the reasoning goes, but that's the 
way it is in today's world. 

This view sees Western technological society as the ultimate expression 
of the evolutionary pathway, the culmination of all that has come before, 
the final flowering. We represent the breakthrough in the evolution of liv- 
ing creatures; we are the conscious expression of the planet. Indians 
helped the process for a while, but they gave way to more evolved, higher 
life forms. 

Our assumption of superiority does not come to us by accident. We 
have been trained in it. It is soaked into the fabric of every Western reli- 
gion, economic system, and technology. They reek of their greater virtues 
and capabilities. 

Judeo-Christian religions are a model of hierarchical structure: one 
God above all, certain humans above other humans, and humans over na- 
ture. Political and economic systems are similarly arranged: Organized 



along rigid hierarchical lines, all of nature's resources are regarded only in 
terms of how they serve the one god — the god of growth and expansion. 
In this way, all of these systems are missionary; they are into dominance. 
And through their mutual collusion, they form a seamless web around our 
lives. They are the creators and enforcers of our beliefs. We live inside 
these forms, are imbued with them, and they justify our behaviors. In turn, 
we believe in their viability and superiority largely because they prove ef- 
fective: They gain power. 

But is power the ultimate evolutionary value? We shall see. The results 
are not yet in. "Survival of the fittest" as a standard of measure may re- 
quire a much longer time scale than the scant 200 years' existence of the 
United States, or the century since the Industrial Revolution, or the two 
decades since the advent of "high tech." Even in Darwinian terms, most 
species become "unfit" over tens of thousands of years. Our culture is us- 
ing its machinery to drive species into extinction in one generation, not 
because the species are maladaptive, but by pure force. However, there is 
reason to doubt the ultimate success of our behavior. In the end, a model 
closer to that of the Indians, living lightly on the planet, observing its nat- 
ural rules and modes of organization, may prove more "fit," and may sur- 
vive us after all. Until that day, however, we will continue to use 
Darwinian theories to support the assertion that our mechanistic victory 
over the "primitives" is not only God's plan, but nature's. 



/n The Death of Nature, Carolyn Merchant, a professor of natural re- 
source studies at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that 
until the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700s, and the "scientific revolu- 
tion" that accompanied it, the prevailing viewpoint among the peoples of 
the earth was that the planet itself was a living creature. Most cultures 
shared this belief, whether they were "Western" in orientation (such as the 
Sumerians, the Greeks, and the Romans), or whether they still lived within 
nature. They believed that the Earth was a being, with skin, soul, and or- 
gans. The skin was the soil, the soul was contained within the rocks and 
bones of the dead, the organs included rivers (the bloodstream) and wind 
(the lungs). Such categories were not meant as metaphors. Earth was alive; 
we lived upon it as millions of tiny microorganisms live on human skin. 

According to Merchant, most cultures up to the Enlightenment also be- 
lieved that the Earth was a female being, the actual mother of life. 

The "scientific revolution" changed all this. For the first time, the idea 
was postulated that the earth is actually a kind of dead thing, a machine. 
With that perspective came a new set of scientific paradigms that gave im- 
petus to the idea of human superiority over other animals and over nature. 
The seeds of such a notion had already been well implanted by the Judeo- 
Christian tradition. But with the manmade technical machine spreading 
itself rapidly across the landscape, we had physical demonstrations of our 
power to alter nature, giving us "proof" of our superiority. 

If human beings had maintained our original notions about the planet 
being a living mother, perhaps human behavior subsequent to the "sci- 



entific revolution" would have been different. On the other hand, in books 
such as Woman and Nature, feminist authors such as Susan Griffin have 
argued brilliantly that it is precisely because of the female nature of the 
planet that patriarchal, hierarchical, Western technological society has 
raped the earth with such alacrity. 

In any event, I believe it is critically important for all Westerners to re- 
alize that the idea of the earth not being alive is a new idea. Even today, 
that view is far from universal and may represent a minority viewpoint, 
advocated mainly by people who live in Western technological cultures. 
Failing to see the planet as alive, they have become free of moral and eth- 
ical constraints, and have benefited economically from exploiting re- 
sources at the earth's expense. But if the majority of people in the United 
States, Western Europe, and the Soviet Union are comfortable regarding 
the earth as a huge, dead rock, this is emphatically not true of those In- 
dians and aboriginal peoples throughout the world who continue to live 
as they have for thousands of years, in a direct relationship to the planet. 

"mother earth" 

If you have ever spent time with American Indians, you have noticed 
that their resistance to resource development is expressed as an effort to 
protect "Mother Earth." It is not only American Indians who use the 
phrase. So do Aborigines of the Australian desert, natives of the Pacific 
islands, Indians of the Ecuadorian jungles, Inuit from Arctic Canada; in 
fact, I have yet to find a native group that does not speak of the planet as 
"mother." And they all mean it literally. Plants, animals, all life as we know 
it is nurtured at her breast. We have germinated within her, we are part of 
her, we burst into life from her, and we dissolve back into her to become 
new life. 

Every culture that maintains this attitude about Mother Earth also has 
restrictions against any individual owning land, or mining it or selling it. 
Such ideas were unthinkable to native people until they met the invading 
Western cultures. 

This fundamental difference in viewpoint between technological cul- 
tures and land-based native peoples — whether the planet is alive or isn't — 
is the root of many conflicts between the two groups. Americans, for ex- 
ample, have a particularly hard time grasping the notion of a living earth. 
We scoff at the idea, in fact, and at anyone who speaks of it seriously. I 
have seen white people laugh aloud when young Indian activists stand at 
meetings to denounce some mining development as a "desecration of our 


mother, the earth." We find it particularly hard to take when such words 
are spoken by the more radical young Indian leaders of today: street-smart 
tough guys with an aggressive urban style. We think they're using a ploy 
on us with that language, that they're not as sincere as their elders who 
have not been Americanized. 

It is true that unlike their grandparents many young Indians did not 
grow up with the feelings they now have. Many of the young activists I 
have met were born on reservations but fled early to the cities. They did 
so for the same reason as many other people: to be nearer the action. Once 
in the cities, however, they did not fit in. Aside from the racism directed 
at them, they found they could not merge with the speed and abstraction 
of urban life. It is sadly typical that they often sank into drunkenness. A 
large percentage eventually returned to their reservations, sometimes ex- 
periencing a reawakening of pride in their heritage. They began to accept 
themselves as Indians and a desire grew to improve the circumstances of 
their people. It is then they sought out the old people and, for the first time, 
they listened. 

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is one of the 
most critical elements in the maintenance of Indian culture. For young 
people, the elders are windows to the roots of their own identity, to the 
visions of Earth and life that came before modern times. The sharing of 
knowledge between the elders and the young is what makes survival 

For the elders, the notion of a Mother Earth is totally integrated into 
their beings. And young activists today realize the importance of that per- 
spective. So they verbalize such concepts, which, even if new to them, are 
ancient nonetheless. They recognize that Indians are the authentic guard- 
ians of such ideas, and they are ensuring that the lineage of understanding 
is preserved. 

That white folks have a hard time accepting this is logical, since the 
concept is as alien as the people who speak of it. And yet it behooves us to 
at least entertain the possibility that the idea of a living planet, a concept 
that has endured for millennia, just might be true. 

Lately some scientists have emerged who are ready to argue on behalf 
of the whole planet as a living system. Notable among them are biologists 
Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, authors of The Gaia Hypothesis, 
which describes the planet and the atmosphere as a unified biological en- 
tity. Their work in particular became the focus for numerous conferences 
on the issue, including the one organized by James Swan titled "Is the 
Earth Alive?" in Mill Valley, California, in 10.86, which considered the 
point from both traditional native and Western scientific perspectives. 



However, it will take many such conferences and many more books be- 
fore there is any change in the dominant Western view of the issue, since 
such change could prove subversive to our culture. If such an idea were 
taken seriously, the United States would be hard-pressed to continue ex- 
isting in anything like its present form. 

Many authors, notably Carl Jung and Aldous Huxley, have stated that 
Western societies fear, hate, destroy, and also revere Indians, precisely be- 
cause they express the parts of our personal and cultural psyches that we 
must suppress in order to function in the world as we do. How could 
present-day America possibly exist if great numbers of people believed 
that the minerals in the ground, the trees and the rocks, and the earth itself 
were all alive? Not only alive, but our equals? If our society suddenly be- 
lieved it was sacrilegious to remove minerals from the earth, or to buy and 
sell land, our society would evaporate. Nor could it exist if Americans be- 
lieved in an economic life organized along steady-state, collective- 
subsistence forms, as most Indian societies are. Therefore it is logical, 
normal, and self-protective for Americans to find the philosophical, polit- 
ical, and economic modes of Indian culture inappropriate and foolish. 


The concept of an organic female earth is basic to native societies, and 
is also a basic difference between native peoples and the people of tech- 
nologized societies. Believing that the earth is alive leads to a world view 
utterly unlike the one that emerges when you believe the planet is dead, or 
that it is a "machine" Is it possible, then, for the two societies to coexist? 
To look at that issue, I thought it would be helpful to create a chart that 
compares the two societies in various aspects of life. The more detailed the 
comparisons, the more obvious it becomes that in almost every category 
Indian and Western societies are at virtually opposite poles. Beyond "op- 
posite," they are in contradiction. 

During the years I worked on this book, I kept an informal list of var- 
ious characteristics that seem to be inherent in all (or most) native societies. 
Though it is by no means complete, and does not pretend to be scientific, 
I think it reveals the near impossibility of assimilation. The two cultures 
are profoundly at odds. To attempt to merge them does not produce co- 
existence or integration, but death for one or the other, which is already 

The following chart is not universally applicable to all Indian societies 


or all Western societies. There are differences among Indian tribes just as 
there are among Western societies. For example, though the Aztecs and 
Incas were Indians, they were more like modern Americans than the 
majority of other Indians. In fact, it is because of the ways in which the 
Aztecs and Incas were similar to us — they created a "state," they had hier- 
archical authority (which most Indian societies do not), and their archi- 
tecture was built for permanence — that we speak of them as "an advanced 

In fundamental ways, however, Indian tribes and aboriginal peoples, 
whether they live in the far north or in tropical forests, are more alike than 
not. The Inuit, the Navajo in the southwestern U.S., and the Aborigines 
in Australia all share very similar attitudes toward nature. To the degree 
that they have not been overtaken by Westerners, they still engage in col- 
lective production, share commodities, and live in extended families. They 
have similar ideas about art, architecture, time, and dozens of other di- 
mensions of life. Their religions are nature based; they believe in a living 
planet. Also important, they share the fact that Westernized nations are 
behaving toward each of them in exactly the same fashion. This in turn is 
because despite all our differences, most Westerners are also more alike 
than different. In both the Soviet Union and the U.S., we wear ties and 
wristwatches, drive cars, live in nuclear families in permanent structures 
alongside pavement walkways. We work for fixed hours of the day for 
years at a time for a person we call "boss." We use money to purchase com- 
modities. We share an attitude about our level of superiority to nature and 
to non-technological humans. 

What follows, then, is a rough description of tendencies, loosely com- 
paring technological cultures on the one hand and native cultures on the 
other. It is meant as a vehicle for exploration and discussion. (Some of the 
points will be amplified in later chapters.) 

Technological Peoples Native Peoples 


Concept of private property a ba- No private ownership of re- 

sic value: includes resources, sources such as land, water, min- 

land, ability to buy and sell, and erals, or plant life. No concept of 

inheritance. Some state owner- selling land. No inheritance. 

ship. Corporate ownership 



Te chnological Peoples 

Goods produced mostly for sale, 
not for personal use. 

Surplus production, profit mo- 
tive essential. Sales techniques 
must create "need," hence 

Economic growth required, espe- 
cially in capitalist societies, hence 
need for increased production, 
increased use of resources, ex- 
pansion of production and mar- 
ket territories. 

Currency system — abstract 

Competition (in capitalist coun- 
tries), production for private 
gain. Reward according to task/ 

Average workday, 8-12 hours. 
Nature viewed as "resource." 

Native Peoples 

Goods produced for use value. 

Subsistence goals: no profit mo- 
tive, little surplus production. 

Steady-state economics: no con- 
cept of economic growth. 

Barter system — concrete value. 

Cooperative, collective 

Average workday 3-5 hours. 

Nature viewed as "being"; hu- 
mans seen as part of nature. 


Hierarchical political forms. 

Decisions generally made by ex- 
ecutive power, majority rule, or 

Spectrum from representative 
democracy to autocratic rule. 

Mostly non-hierarchical: "chiefs" 
have no coercive power. 

Decisions usually based on con- 
sensual process involving whole 

Direct participatory democracy; 
rare examples of autocracy. 


Technological Peoples Native Peoples 

Operative political modes are 
communist, socialist, monarchist, 
capitalist, or fascist. 

Centralization: most power con- 
centrated in central authorities. 

Laws are codified, written. Ad- 
versarial process. Anthropocen- 
trism forms basis of law. 
Criminal cases judged by 
strangers (in U.S., western Eu- 
rope, Soviet Union). No taboo. 

Concept of "state." 

Recognizable operative political 
modes are anarchist, communist, 
or theocratic. 

Decentralization: power resides 
mainly in community, among 
people. (Some exceptions include 
Incas, Aztec, et al.) 

Laws transmitted orally. No ad- 
versarial process. Laws inter- 
preted for individual cases. 
"Natural law" used as basis. 
Criminal cases settled by groups 
of peers known to "criminal." 

Identity as "nation." 



Large-scale societies; most socie- 
ties have high population density. 

Lineage mostly patrilineal. 

Nuclear two- or one-parent fam- 
ilies; also "singles." 

Revere the young. 

History written in books, por- 
trayed in television docudramas. 

Small-scale societies, all people 
acquainted; low population 

Lineage mostly matrilineal, with 
some variation; family property 
rights run through female. 

Extended families: generations, 
sometimes many families, live 

Revere the old. 

History transmitted in oral tradi- 
tion, carried through memory. 


Technological Peoples Native Peoples 


Living beyond nature's limits en- 
couraged; natural terrain not 
considered a limitation; conquest 
of nature a celebrated value; al- 
teration of nature desirable; anti- 
harmony; resources exploited. 

High-impact technology created 
to change environment. Mass- 
scale development: one-to- 
millions ratio in weaponry and 
other technologies. 

Humans viewed as superior life 
form; Earth viewed as "dead." 

Living within natural ecosystem 
encouraged; harmony with na- 
ture the norm; only mild altera- 
tions of nature for immediate 
needs: food, clothing, shelter; no 
permanent damage. 

Low-impact technology; one-to- 
one ratio even in weaponry. 

Entire world viewed as alive: 
plants, animals, people, rocks. 
Humans not superior, but equal 
part of web of life. Reciprocal re- 
lationship with non-human life. 


Construction materials trans- 
ported from distant places. 

Construction designed to survive 
individual human life. 

Space designed for separation 
and privacy. 

Hard-edged forms; earth covered 
with concrete. 

Construction materials usually 
gathered locally. 

Construction designed to eventu- 
ally dissolve back into land (ex- 
cept for pyramids built by 
minority of Indians); materials 
biodegradable in one lifetime. 

Space designed for communal 

Soft forms; earth not paved. 


Technological Peoples 


Native Peoples 



spirituality from Spirituality integrated with all 

most Western cul- aspects of daily life. 

Separation of 
rest of life in 1 
tures (though not in some Mus- 
lim, Hindu, or Buddhist states); 
church and state separated; ma- 
terialism is dominant philosophy 
in Western countries. 

Either monotheistic concept of 
single, male god, or atheistic. 

Futuristic/linear concept of time; 
de-emphasis of past. 

The dead are regarded as gone. 

Individuals gain most informa- 
tion from media, schools, author- 
ity figures outside their 
immediate community or 

Time measured by machines; 
schedules dictate when to do 

Saving and acquiring. 

Polytheistic concepts based on 
nature, male and female forces, 

Integration of past and present. 

The dead are regarded as 

Individuals gain information 
from personal experiences. 

Time measured by awareness ac- 
cording to observance of nature; 
time to do something is when 
time is right. 

Sharing and giving. 

It is important to note that the characteristics on each side of this chart 
form an internally consistent logic. In politics, for example, hierarchical 
power makes a great deal more sense for operating a large-scale techno- 
logical society in widely separated parts of the world than does a consen- 
sual decision-making process, which is much too slow to keep pace with 
machinery, electronics, and the need to grow and expand. In relation to 
the environment, the notion of "humans above nature" is more fitting for 
technological cultures, and for capitalism in particular, than "humans 
within nature," which throws wrenches in the wheels of progress. 



It has proven unfortunate for the survival of Indian nations that their 
way of viewing the world is so drastically at odds with the views of Amer- 
ican technological society. Indigenous systems of logic have not led them 
to emphasize expansion, power, or high-impact technologies of violence. 
Meanwhile, several aspects of the industrial system, especially in capitalist 
societies, do celebrate and even require the goals of expansion, growth, and 
exploitation and the development of the technologies appropriate to those 
goals. When the two world views come into conflict, we in the industrial 
cultures have the brute advantage of the violent technologies to help wipe 
out indigenous cultures; we then interpret this so-called victory as further 
evidence of our greater fitness to survive. 

It is clear from this big picture of both cultures that they are incom- 
patible. They do not and probably cannot mix. They ought rightly to be 
viewed as antitheses of each other, or as each others shadow. They are both 
branches on the tree of human life, but they have grown very far from each 
other. Author Dee Brown has suggested that the Indians have always 
known about this schism, and the inevitable conflict that comes with it. 
Case after case of Indian-white interaction documents that Indians were 
never interested in assimilating with white culture. 

Indians do not want to be Americans. They have historically tried to 
negotiate with us as to what was theirs and what was ours; they never 
wanted to be part of us, and many still do not want to be. For these reasons 
the new Indian leadership puts great emphasis on political separation, and 
on reclaiming Indian identity, land, and sovereignty. They see assimilation 
as an absurdity. 

This may be the most important and yet most difficult point for Amer- 
icans to grasp: that Indians in this country and elsewhere are different 
from other "oppressed" or "underdeveloped" Third World peoples who 
seek to share the fruits of our society. In fact, many Indians speak of them- 
selves as a Fourth World. They do not wish to become like us. They are 
fighting to avoid that outcome, struggling to maintain their land base and 
to live as they have always lived. 

Contrary to our prevailing paradigms, which assume that indigenous 
peoples throughout the world wish to participate in our economy, many 
Indians do not see us as the survivors in a Darwinian scenario. They see 
themselves as eventual survivors, while we represent a people who has 
badly misunderstood the way things are on the earth. They do not wish to 
join the technological experiment. They do not wish to engage in the in- 
dustrial mode of production. They do not want a piece of the action. They 
see our way as a striving for death. They want to be left out of the process. 
If we are going over the brink, they do not wish to join us. 



Throughout the world, whether they live in deserts or jungle or the far 
north, or in the United States, millions of native people share the percep- 
tion that they are resisting a single, multi-armed enemy: a society whose 
basic assumptions, whose way of mind, and whose manner of political and 
economic organization permit it to ravage the planet without discomfort, 
and to drive natives off their ancestral lands. That this juggernaut will 
eventually consume itself is not doubted by these people. They meet and 
discuss it. They attempt to strategize about it. Their goal is to stay out of 
its way and survive it. 

"we are helping you" 

On December 6, 1986, in San Francisco, a group of non-Indian activists 
gathered to strategize about Indian issues. Present were about sixty rep- 
resentatives of civil rights, human rights, religious freedom, anti-nuclear, 
anti-colonialist, and environmental organizations. Also in attendance 
were a dozen Indians, most of them Hopi and Navajo, invited to inform 
the meeting about their fight to prevent the forced removal of 10,000 In- 
dians from their ancestral homes in order to make way for coal and ura- 
nium mines, and other forms of development. 

The first question the conferees faced was why they had never convened 
about Indian issues before. Clearly, Indian struggles were directly related 
to the work of each of the represented organizations; yet collaboration 
with Indians had rarely been included in organizational agendas. 

The conference was in its second day when the mood suddenly shifted. 
By then there had been panel discussions on the role of media, the law, 
and legislation; there had been historical overviews; there had been schol- 
arly comparisons with prior historical aggressions against Indians. Next 
on the schedule was a presentation of the environmental implications of 
certain Indian questions. But before it could begin, a young Navajo man, 
Danny Blackgoat, stepped forward to gently interrupt the process. 

Blackgoat began speaking to the assembled group of activists: "The In- 
dian people here have been listening quietly while you have been talking 
for two days and we have been waiting to hear what's going to happen, 
and if any of you are going to be able to help us. We've been here a pretty 
long time now and we still don't know what's going to happen. We think 
it would be good now if you heard what the Indian people have to say 
because so far you've heard from everybody but the Indians." 

At this point one of the environmentalists issued a protest. It we inter- 
rupt the schedule, he said, which was already running an hour and a halt 



late, we would fall hopelessly behind. But he was immediately shouted 
down by the rest of the people. Then Blackgoat added, "I think the first 
thing we better do right now is that everybody should take off their 
watches and put them in their pockets." He then invited the other Indians 
to join him in the front of the room. 

The mood of the meeting instantly changed. The assembled liberal do- 
gooders, myself included, realized our role had changed. Our authority 
had diminished. We were now an audience to the eight Indians who went 
forward and sat facing us. One by one each told his or her story. They 
began with their Indian names, the clans they belonged to, and a discus- 
sion of the ways in which they understood their religious teachings. They 
spoke quietly, slowly, and directly. 

Looking at their faces I was thrown back twenty-one years to 1965 — 
the first time I was in such a situation with Indians. The Hopi Tribal 
Council (which is not considered a legitimate government by most Hopi, 
but rather a puppet government controlled by the U.S.) had leased a por- 
tion of Black Mesa to Peabody Coal Company for a strip mine. In doing 
this the tribal council had ignored the pleadings of the traditional village 
political and religious leaders, who argued that Black Mesa was one of the 
Hopi's most sacred places. The tribal council was not concerned about that 
since most of its members were Americanized, progressive-type Indians 
that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had in its pocket. In fact most of the 
tribal council were not so much Hopi as they were Mormons. 

I had been invited to meet the religious leaders by an ethnomusicologist 
from Santa Fe, Jack Loeffler, who was helping the elders in their fight 
against the mine. Loeffler introduced me to many of the leaders, and even- 
tually I wrote an advertisement on their behalf, with the headline like 
ripping apart st. peter's in order to sell the marble. That adver- 
tisement included a quote from John Lansa, a Hopi elder, who had been 
the first to explain to me what was motivating the Hopi resistance: 

Nature is everything important to the Hopi. It is the land, all living 
things, the water, the trees, the rocks — it is everything. It is the force 
or the power that comes from these things that keeps the world to- 
gether. This is the spiritual center of this land. This is the most sacred 
place. Right here on this mesa . . . before the white men came, all 
the Hopi were happy and sang all the time. The Hopi didn't have 
any class structure at all — no bosses, no policemen, no judges — 
everyone was equal. There weren't any politics then. ... In those 
days the air was clear and everyone could see far. We always looked 
to the Earth Mother for food and nourishment. We never took more 



than we needed. Our lives were very rich and humble. We lived close 
to the earth as laid out by the Great Spirit. When the white men 
came, everything started to get out of balance. The white brother has 
no spiritual knowledge, only technical. . . . Now there is a big strip 
mine where coal comes out of the earth to send electricity to the big 
cities. They cut across our sacred shrines and destroy our prayers to 
the six directions. . . . Peabody Coal Company is tearing up the land 
and destroying the sacred mountain. ... It is very bad. You can't do 
things like that and have nature in balance. 

Lansa has since died, as have many of the other elders of that time. But 
many years later, I was sitting in a room in San Francisco hearing similar 
words from a new generation of Indians. I was realizing that the most 
astounding fact about Indian people today is that despite what they face 
and what they know, they continue to express themselves in exactly the 
same terms. They are uncompromising, speaking of values alien to the 
dominant culture. And yet they continue. 

Following Danny Blackgoat, each of the other Indians rose to speak. 
One said that "religion is the most important thing in our lives, and the 
struggles for the land are religious struggles." Another spoke of the im- 
portance of the land: "If you were born on the land, that land is your 
home. That cannot be taken away from you. Tribal councils, relocation, 
American education — all of this is intended to get us away from our cul- 
ture and our way of life." 

A young western Shoshone Indian, Joe Sanchez, spoke about the failure 
of Americans to grasp the Indian struggles: 

For most Americans, land is a dead thing. It means nothing. But to 
disconnect from land is unthinkable to Indians. The land is every- 
thing. It's the source of our existence. It's where the ancestors' spirits 
live. It is not a commodity that can be bought or sold, and to rip it 
open to mine it is deeply sacrilegious to all Indian people. Nowadays 
most Americans live in or near cities. They have no connection with 
the dirt, with the earth. They have no way of identifying with the 
most essential feelings that define Indian experience and values. So 
they don't take us seriously. When our elders try to explain that In- 
dian people die if they are removed from the land, Americans don't 
know what they're talking about. The schools and media don't help. 
The public pretty much assumes we're all dead and gone. We are 
invisible to Americans and so are our causes. To Americans we are 
just part of some story about the past, somehow connected to their 
own pioneer heroics. 



The next speaker was an Inuit woman, a veteran activist in native 

I am watching the first generation of my people |from Alaska] be 
forced to give up their traditional nomadic ways; the first generation 
that had to move into settlements because of oil development. It's 
been many years, but I was also resettled from the North down here 
to the States, and I would never do such a thing to anyone. ... I go 
home now every year and see that the people there still have the joy 
of living ... the joy of taking care of each other. But I don't think 
it will last. There is no justice in America. Indians in prison are not 
even permitted to pray in their traditional ways. Treaties with Indi- 
ans are supposed to be the law of the land but the U.S. ignored them. 
I am here to help the traditional Indian people, those who still have 
their land. They are still strong. That way of life is natural. That way 
of life is good. 

The final speaker was a young Menominee Indian woman, whom I 
know as Ingrid Washinawatok, but who also uses her Indian name, 
Opegtaw Mataemoh: 

My first name means Flying Eagle Woman. My second name means 
The Spirit Watches Over. I am one of those Indians who lives be- 
tween worlds but I know the one I prefer. I go back and forth from 
the reservation [in Wisconsin] to my job in New York City. When I 
fly over the land in a plane I can see a big dark spot and I know that's 
where the reservation is. Everywhere else has been clear-cut for dairy 
land and farming and for timber. The reservation is the only place 
where the people try to leave the land in its natural state. . . . Amer- 
icans have really strange notions about what's an Indian. If you're a 
traditional Indian they tell us we don't belong in the world anymore 
and they ignore us. If we wear blue jeans and drive a pickup truck 
they say we're not really Indians. ... My kid was watching TV and 
he started talking about power. He saw a commercial where power 
was associated with a toy gun. I told him that wasn't power. I told 
him to come back to the land and I'd show him what power is. . . . 
The traditional Indian people are protecting something that is im- 
portant for everyone. They are trying to keep the land alive, and the 
world in balance. Sometimes I get the feeling that you [looking at 
the audience] don't really get the point. You are not really helping 
us. We are helping you. 

J 3 


/ohn Boorman's popular 1985 film The Emerald Forest, set in the 
Amazon rainforest, may come closer to describing the contemporary 
Indian problem in certain parts of the world than any other film. It is not 
a perfect film by any means. The acting is awkward and the attempt to 
portray authentic Xingu Indian dances, arts, and rituals (performed by ac- 
tors from Rio) makes it self-consciously "realistic." But the film gets an 
A+ on a few counts. First, the situation it describes — an Indian tribe 
being pushed off its land by the construction of a huge dam that causes 
massive destruction to the forest — is typical of what is happening to the 
Xingu and the Yanomamo Indians of South America, as well as Indian 
nations throughout the world. Second, the film accurately depicts the in- 
tertribal conflict that ensues when one tribe is pushed from its own lands 
into territories of other tribes. Third, the destructive role of Western tech- 
nology — bulldozers, dams, guns — is clearly portrayed, as is the inexorable 
drive of Westerners to expand without regard for the forest or the peoples 
within it. 

The Emerald Forest is also unusual in its effort to show white people 
from the point of view of Indians. The Indians call the whites "the termite 
people," because of how they destroy the forest; white society is "the dead 
world," because of the concrete environments it creates, where nothing 

That the film describes a current situation distinguishes it from the 
usual media portrayal of Indian issues as part of the past. The Emerald 
Forest is as topical for Indians as The China Syndrome was for anti-nuke 



But for me, the most interesting moment in the film is a fleeting one 
that I never saw mentioned in reviews or articles, though it authentically 
portrays a fascinating aspect of Indian governance. It happens during a 
conversation between an American engineer who has wandered deeply 
into the jungle searching for his lost son, and a chief of the Invisible 
People. The engineer has been pushing the chief to order that one of the 
young men of the tribe undertake a certain exploration that no one had 
volunteered to do. The chief declines, explaining to the American, "If I 
tell a man to do something he doesn't want to do, then I wouldn't be chief 

In the years I worked on this book, the most surprising revelations con- 
cerned the political and governmental forms of native peoples. Like most 
Americans I was raised with the idea that American constitutional de- 
mocracy represented a new and unique political system, a Utopian system 
that has proven itself workable in actual practice. I held the usual preju- 
dices against other structures of government, especially socialism and 
Marxism, but it never passed through my mind that "primitive" peoples 
might have something to offer in the way of democratic government. Such 
a possibility was never mentioned in schools or in the media. Indian gov- 
ernment systems, like all other dimensions of Indian life, were described 
with cliches about "anarchy" or despotic chiefdoms. Indian governments 
were described as representing an earlier stage of political development, 
of which we are the advanced form. 

Describing Indian governments in such negative terms, or else declin- 
ing to mention them at all, was and still is convenient for Americans and 
Westerners. It is yet another way we justify our interventions of past and 
present as having benefit for them: we bring the gift of democracy. More 
than hubris, this is a direct distortion of historical truth. It turns out that 
many Indian nations around the world, especially the Indians of the 
Americas, practiced a very high form of participatory democracy for thou- 
sands of years; and many nations continue to do so today. 

In fact, there is a large and growing body of evidence among scholars 
of Indian-U.S. history that a pre-Columbian governmental form — the 
Great Binding Law of the Iroquois Confederacy — may have been the pri- 
mary model and inspiration for the U.S. Articles of Confederation and for 
the Constitution itself. This possibility was not even mentioned as part of 
the official celebration of the Constitution's bicentennial in 1987, which 
represents a scandalous disregard for the role Indians played in the for- 



mation of our country, and our debt to them. I will come back to this later 
in this chapter. 

Of course not every Indian government was democratic, and no one 
description of a particular tribal government can apply to the many thou- 
sands of native governmental systems that have existed around the world. 
Sadly, we can no longer observe these traditional forms because the tribes 
themselves are gone, or have been forcibly destroyed or so manipulated by 
Western intervention that the original traditional systems have disap- 
peared. Nonetheless, it seems abundantly clear that the majority of native 
nations on this continent, as well as most in South America, Australia, 
New Zealand, the Arctic, and Africa were small, non-imperial, non- 
hierarchical, usually matriarchal, and democratic societies. (Notable ex- 
ceptions to this are the Aztec, Inca, and perhaps Zapotec societies, which 
tended toward large imperialist theocracies.) This generalization applies 
to tribes that were nomadic (such as the Navajo and Sioux in North Amer- 
ica) and those that were more sedentary, as well as to tribes that lived in 
deserts or mountains or in the frozen north. 

What's most significant, perhaps, is that virtually all traditional tribal 
people share three primary political principles: 1) all land, water, and for- 
est is communally owned by the tribe; private ownership of land or goods 
beyond those of the immediate household is unthinkable; 2) all tribal 
decisions are made by consensus, in which every tribal member partici- 
pates; and 3) chiefs are not coercive, authoritarian rulers, as we tend to 
think of them; they are more like teachers or facilitators, and their duties 
are confined to specific realms (medicine, planting, war, relationships, 

On the North American continent (as elsewhere) these three factors 
were the source of much conflict with the colonists and later with the 
American government, as they conspired to frustrate American expan- 
sionist dreams. 

For example, communal ownership of land, combined with consensus 
decision-making, made it profoundly difficult for Americans to make 
deals or buy land from Indians, or even to trade for land, because all mem- 
bers of the tribe needed to agree. Direct military action, therefore, became 
a more viable option. In recent times, more legalistic means have been 
found to subvert traditional Indian government forms, as we'll see in later 

In addition, the fluidity of a chief's role was incomprehensible to West- 
ern invaders, who had come from a Europe that had only known mon- 
archies. Here they found no single authority with whom to negotiate, and 
who could then exercise authority over everyone else. Many tribes had scv- 



eral chiefs; some, such as the Plains Indian tribes, had dozens. At certain 
times of year, the ceremonial chiefs would gain prominence. At other 
times it might be those with knowledge of agriculture. It was only during 
wartime that war chiets would emerge, but even their position would sub- 
side as things calmed. None of the chiefs had lifetime tenure, reigning in 
their roles only so long as they were trusted and supported by the tribe, as 
in the example from The Emerald Forest. If a chief's wisdom or perfor- 
mance was found wanting, another person would emerge or be placed into 
that role. 

(Early contacts with white colonists disrupted some of the fluidity of 
the power arrangements within Indian tribes. Typically a white military 
force might make first contact with a tribe, and be greeted, appropriately, 
by the warrior chiefs. To the invading peoples the warrior chiefs seemed 
like monarchs, and were treated in that manner. This gave the warriors a 
political importance within the tribe that they might not have had before. 
Meanwhile, the arriving invaders never recognized the other chiefs, es- 
pecially those responsible for such subtle matters as medicine, agriculture, 
or relationships, many of whom might have been women.) 


The seminal work on the true nature of Indian chiefdom is Society 
Against the State by French anthropologist Pierre Clastres, in which he re- 
ports on his travels among several South American tribes. He also refers 
to research among tribes in areas of North America, Africa, Siberia, and 
the South Sea Islands that continue to live by traditional subsistence ways, 
that are outside the market economy, and that maintain their ancient 
forms of governance. 

Clastres concludes that the Western idea of the Indian chief as a mini- 
king is totally erroneous: 

The chief has no authority at his disposal, no power of coercion, no 
means of giving an order. The chief is not a commander; the people 
of the tribe are under no obligation to obey. . . . 

The chief has to rely on nothing more than the prestige accorded 
him by the society to restore order and harmony. . . . What qualifies 
a man to be chief is his technical competence, his oratorical talent, 
his expertise as a hunter, his ability to coordinate . . . and in no cir- 
cumstance does the tribe allow the technical superiority to change 
into a political authority. . . . 



. . . The oldest chronicles leave no room for doubt on this score: 
it there is something completely alien to an Indian, it is the idea of 
giving an order or having to obey, except under very special circum- 
stances such as prevail during a martial expedition. 

Describing the duties of a chief, Clastres says, "The chief must be re- 
sponsible for maintaining peace and harmony in the group. He must ap- 
pease quarrels and settle disputes — not by employing a force he does not 
possess, but by relying solely on the strength of his prestige, his fairness 
and his verbal ability. More than a judge who passes sentence, he is an ar- 
biter, who seeks to reconcile. ... A second characteristic is generosity, 
which is both a duty and a bondage." 

Clastres quotes Francis Huxley on practices of the Urubu people: "It is 
the business of a chief to be generous and to give what is asked of him. In 
some Indian tribes you can always tell the chief because he has the fewest 
possessions and wears the shabbiest ornaments. He has had to give away 
everything else." The point of the giveaway process is to maintain eco- 
nomic equality among the people, as with the potlatch ceremonies of the 
Kwakiutl and others. 

Speaking specifically of North American Indian societies, Clastres 
adds: "One is confronted by a vast constellation of societies in which the 
holders of what elsewhere would be called power [chiefs] are actually 
without power; where the political is determined as a domain beyond 
coercion and violence, beyond hierarchical subordination, where no rela- 
tionship of command-obedience is in force. This is the major difference 
of the Indian world, making it possible to speak of the American tribes as 
a homogeneous universe despite the extreme diversity of cultures moving 
within it." 

Clastres is not alone among anthropologists who have noted this phe- 
nomenon of chiefs without power. But astonishingly, most of them con- 
clude that this indicates the inferiority of "primitive" governance. Rather 
than celebrating communities capable of living happily for millennia 
without using coercive power, most anthropologists denigrate these gov- 
ernments, calling them "embryonic," "nascent," or "poorly developed," 
while decrying that most Indians did not "advance" sufficiently to develop 

The notion that coercive power is somehow "higher" than systems that 
function without it is debatable, to say the least. So is the notion that the 
"state" is an advancement over more informal nationhood, given that the 
term "state" lumps together democracies and monarchies and dictator- 
ships of all kinds. 



But the creation of such a standard does serve one important purpose 
tor Western anthropologists: It becomes another thread in the fabric of 
standards by which we confirm our imagined superiority. 


One of the greatest irritations for American Indians today is how 
American society refuses to acknowledge that the flow of influence be- 
tween our societies over the centuries has not been entirely one-directional. 
That we had a major impact on Indians — mostly destructive — cannot be 
denied. But virtually no credit is given the Indian contribution to West- 
erners. Occasionally, begrudging recognition is given the fact that the In- 
dians taught the early arrivals to these shores what to eat, how to farm, and 
how to survive in the harsh, cold woods. And nowadays, because of the 
recent work of groups attempting to protect the rainforests of the world, 
we are hearing about forest Indians knowledge of medicinal plants. We 
are beginning to grasp that modern pharmacology is rooted in the ancient 
knowledge of forest plants, and that we have barely begun to tap the In- 
dians' full knowledge in these matters. And yet that knowledge is on the 
verge of being totally lost as the forests are destroyed and the Indians are 
killed or removed from their lands. 

In his book Indian Givers, anthropologist Jack Weatherford lists nu- 
merous areas where Indian contributions have not been acknowledged, 
particularly in agriculture, food, architecture, and urban planning. But to 
me, the most important area where the Indian role has been ignored, or 
hidden, is their influence on democratic government. It is surely one of 
the most closely guarded secrets of American history that the Iroquois 
Confederacy had a major role in helping such people as Benjamin Frank- 
lin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson as they attempted to confed- 
erate a new government under democratic principles. 

Recent scholarship has shown that in the mid-iyoos Indians were not 
only invited to participate in the deliberations of our "founding fathers," 
but that the Great Binding Law of the Iroquois Confederacy arguably be- 
came the single most important model for the 1754 Albany Plan of Union, 
and later the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. That this 
would be absent from our school texts, and from history, and from media 
is not surprising given the devotion Americans feel to our founding myth: 
Great men gathered to express a new vision that has withstood the test of 


time. If it were revealed that Indians had a role in it, imagine the blow to 
the American psyche. 

• • • 

Please try to imagine what it was like in the mid- 1700s, when the colonists 
were desperate to free themselves from oppressive English control. The 
major urban settlements of the time — Albany, Philadelphia, Boston, New 
York — were nothing like they are today. Albany, the capital of New York, 
and site of the most important meetings about confederation, had only 
some 200 houses in 1754. Its population was under 3,000. Philadelphia, 
which was to become the U.S. capital, was the largest city in the colonies, 
with a population of 13,000. These places were really tiny towns, with 
mud roads, separated from one another by hundreds of miles of forest and 
several days' travel. Within those forests were Indians ! In fact, the Indians 
were still, at that time, the stronger society, having yielded only a small 
part of their coastal territories. The Iroquois Confederacy (of New York, 
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, and Ontario) had yielded practically 

The colonists were still quite vulnerable. It was exceedingly important 
to them to get along with the Indians, who were all around. They often 
met to discuss mutually important issues: safe passage, commercial trade, 
land agreements (treaties), and military alliances. The Iroquois were es- 
pecially important to the English colonies militarily, since alliance with the 
Iroquois against the French was critical to survival. 

If the Iroquois had not finally fought on the side of the English colo- 
nies, we would all now be speaking French, and would probably be part 
of Quebec. Dealings with Indians took place on an everyday basis, and, 
according to many scholars, most negotiations were "in the Indian man- 
ner," that is, they were held as part of Indian councils, and followed Indian 
rules of discussion, procedure, and contact. So the colonists who negoti- 
ated with the Indians had significant knowledge of Indian decision-mak- 
ing and governance and went to considerable pain to accommodate the 
Indian processes. Even the selection of Albany as the site of many meet- 
ings was at the behest of the Indians. 

It is fair to say that good relations with the Indians of that period were 
as important to the colonists as, say, present-day U.S. relations with Can- 
ada or the Soviet Union. In the 1700s, "foreign policy" was largely about 
relating to the Indians. 

In addition to having day-to-day contact with the Indians of the mid- 
1700s, and carrying on negotiations in the Indian mode, the men who were 



striving to achieve independence, confederation, and democracy were 
struggling under another great burden: Nowhere in their own experience 
was there a working model of a democratic confederation of states. All of 
Europe at that time was under the rule of monarchs who claimed their 
authority by Divine Right. There were stirrings of democratic ferment in 
Europe, in the writings of Montesquieu, Locke, and Hume, who were 
being studied and discussed. And the Greeks provided a model, although 
it was 2,000 years old, only a partial democracy, not a confederation, and 
existed in an utterly different geopolitical context. 

Meanwhile, living side by side with these aspiring federalists, in con- 
stant negotiation with them, was an Indian nation that, beyond theory or 
historical abstraction, was an actual living example of a successful demo- 
cratic confederation, united under a single law that had already survived 
for many centuries: the Great Binding Law of the Iroquois Confederacy. 

Although some Western scholars assert that the Great Law was created 
in the early 1400s, the Iroquois themselves argue that the Great Law ex- 
isted for hundreds of years before Columbus's arrival. There is little doubt, 
however, that the Great Law arose from circumstances very similar to 
those faced by the separate colonies. The law was designed to form a 
peaceful federation among five previously separate, disputatious Indian 
nations — Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, Seneca, and Cayuga (joined later 
by Tuscarora) — who resided for millennia in adjoining areas that ex- 
tended from what is now Tennessee to most of Ontario. The Great Law 
articulated the manner in which the confederated nations would thence- 
forth relate to one another as a single body. It also articulated the rights 
that would be reserved for the individual nations (states' rights). The Law 
described a system for democratically electing representatives to a Grand 
Council, divided into separate deliberative bodies (multi-cameral legisla- 
ture). And it included, in great detail, descriptions of the legislatures of 
individual nations, as well as rights of universal suffrage, popular selection 
and removal of chiefs, and the manner in which all the members of the 
population should participate. 

That the model was successful was apparent by the mere fact that it was 
already many centuries old, during which time the separate nations had 
cooperated peacefully on federal matters, yet remained separate. In fact 
the Iroquois Confederacy is still functional today among the six member 
nations, and the Great Law remains as the system of governance. 

Given all of the above, it is preposterous to assume that the colonists 
were not influenced by the Iroquois. And yet it has been an uphill struggle 
for historians who have argued this point against the founding myths of 
American society. 


2 33 

Foremost among the maverick historians is Professor Donald Grinde, 
Jr., of the University of California at Riverside. In his book The Iroquois 
and the Founding of the American Nation, Grinde argues that the Iroquois 
were a significant influence on colonial leaders, who had nowhere else to 
turn. He quotes George Clinton, then governor of New York, as observing 
in 1747 that most American democratic leaders were "people of republi- 
can principles who have no knowledge of democratic governments." 
Grinde continues, "The tribesmen of America seemed to many Europe- 
ans to be free of such abuses [as were generated by the European mon- 
archs]. . . . The colonists saw freedom widely exercised by American 
Indians. Even the cultural arrogance and racism of English colonists could 
not fully disguise their astonishment at finding Native Americans in such 
a free and peaceful state." 

Grinde points out that James Madison made frequent forays to study 
and speak with Iroquois leaders. William Livingston was fluent in Mo- 
hawk, and visited and stayed with Indians over extended periods. John 
Adams and his family socialized with Cayuga chiefs on numerous occa- 
sions. Thomas Jefferson's personal papers show specific references to the 
forms of Iroquois governance, and, says Grinde, "Benjamin Franklin's 
work is resplendent with stories about Indians and Indian ideas of per- 
sonal freedom and structures of government." University of Nebraska 
professor Bruce Johansen has added that Franklin, who was in the print- 
ing business, was especially intimate with Indian thinking since he "had 
been printing Indian treaties since 1736 and not only was he acquainted 
with them, he set the type." Franklin was also present at an important 
meeting among Iroquois chiefs and several colonial governors in Lancas- 
ter, Pennsylvania, in 1744, at which the chiefs recommended that the col- 
onists stop fighting among themselves and form a union. 

By 1754, when most of these men and others gathered to create the Al- 
bany Plan of Union, the first try at confederation, they invited forty-two 
members of the Iroquois Grand Council to serve as advisors on confed- 
erate structures. Benjamin Franklin freely acknowledged his interest in 
the Iroquois achievement in a famous speech at the Albany Congress: "It 
would be a strange thing ... if six nations of ignorant savages \sic\ should 
be capable of forming such a union and be able to execute it in such a 
manner that it has subsisted for ages and appears indissoluble, and yet that 
a like union should be impractical for ten or a dozen English colonies." 

According to Grinde, Franklin convened meetings of Iroquois chiefs 
and congressional delegates in order to "hammer out a plan that he ac- 
knowledged to be similar to the Iroquois Confederacy." 

In a 1989 interview with Catherine Stifter of National Public Radio, 

2 34 


Grinde referred to the considerable resistance in the academic community 
to the idea of the Iroquois role in the formative stages of American history. 
According to Grinde, as recently as fifteen years ago people considered the 
idea a "fantasy," but there has since been considerable progress: 

People have |now] accepted the fact the Iroquois were at the Conti- 
nental Congress on the eve of the Declaration of Independence and 
they're having to deal with the fact that John Adams was advocating 
the study of Indian governments, and that Adams observed that oth- 
ers among the founding fathers were advancing Indian ideas on the 
eve of the Constitutional Convention. But people have been led kick- 
ing and screaming into these realizations. . . . The promise and the 
vision that Indian societies provided to Europeans was that democ- 
racy did not die 2,000 years before in ancient Greece, [to be followed 
by] Divine Right monarchy as the evolution of government. In 
North America and in other places in the world there were people 
that were living without kings or landed nobility and who had sys- 
tems of government that were clearly less coercive than those in Eu- 
rope. . . . Some people [still] deny this. I believe for some people this 
is a problem. . . . It's difficult to entertain the idea that the founding 
fathers were relating to, talking about, and evaluating the ideas of 
non-white peoples ... it goes against the conventional wisdom of 
our society. 

If Indian influence upon American constitutional democracy is a tough 
pill for Americans to swallow, there is yet another minor aspect to the story 
that can only create still greater anxiety. There's a case to be made that the 
Iroquois model was also influential in Europe, particularly upon Freder- 
ick Engels and Karl Marx. 

At the time when Marx and Engels were struggling to create models 
for an egalitarian, classless society, which later evolved into communism, 
Engels was strongly influenced by the eighteenth-century work of an- 
thropologist Lewis Morgan, particularly his reports on the Iroquois. En- 
gels was so impressed that in his work Origin of the Family, Private Property 
and the State, the Iroquois were used as the prime example of a successful 
classless, egalitarian, noncoercive society. 

And so we have the bizarre situation that while Westerners continue to 
assume that the flow of influence was simply from the more "advanced" 
Western societies to the Indians of the Americas, it is arguably the case that 
the two dominant political systems of the past century were both at least 
partly rooted in the wisdom of the Great Binding Law of the Iroquois 
Confederacy. If so, both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. would do well to ac- 



knowledge the connection, study the original document, see where each 
went wrong, and try to get it right the next time. 


According to Iroquois history, the creation of the Great Law is attrib- 
uted primarily to the work of two men: Hiawatha (Mohawk) and Dekan- 
awida (Onondaga), who spent several decades wandering together across 
what is now the eastern U.S. and Canada hundreds of years before Co- 
lumbus landed, with a plan to unite the Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onon- 
daga, and Seneca. (The Tuscarora joined much later, in 171 5.) 

The Great Law was transmitted orally from generation to generation, 
with its tenets recorded only on wampum belts and strings. Many of these 
wampums have since been lost, and those that remain were the subject of 
bitter lawsuits during the 1980s between the Iroquois and the State Uni- 
versity of New York, which housed them. The university finally returned 
them to the Indians in 1989. 

One of the early translations of the Iroquois constitution was by the 
turn-of-the-century anthropologist Arthur H. Parker, and is contained in 
Parser on the Iroquois, edited by William Fenton. In addition to Parker's 
commentaries on Iroquois life, the book contains Parker's English trans- 
lation of the entire constitution: 1 15 pages of text. 

Parker comments that "The Great Law as a governmental system was 
an almost ideal one for the stage of culture [sic] with which it was designed 
to cope. ... By adhering to it the Five Nations became the dominant na- 
tive power east of the Mississippi and during colonial times exercised an 
immense influence in determining the fate of English civilization on the 
continent." Iroquois members today credit the Great Law as the main rea- 
son for their continued coherence as a viable nation, more successful than 
other American Indians in resisting domination by white society. 

• • • 

Certain features of the Great Law, as reported in Parker s book, are in- 
stantly recognizable for their similarity with the U.S. Constitution: the es- 
tablishment of a federation with separate powers tor federal and state 
governments; provisions for the common defense; representative democ- 
racy at the federal and local levels; separate legislative branches that debate 
issues and reconcile disagreements; checks and balances against excessive 



powers; rights of popular nomination and recall; and universal suffrage 
(although this last provision took Americans another 1 50 years to achieve). 

But the features the colonists declined to introduce are just as interest- 
ing as the features that resemble our Constitution. For example, the Iro- 
quois had no executive branch, no rulers or presidents; the colonists 
couldn't bear to get too far away from their monarch. Many of the powers 
to appoint and remove chiefs for the Iroquois were held by the women, 
another dimension of checks and balances that the United States did not 
include, along with the principle of consensual decision-making at each 
level of government and in each legislative branch. 

According to Parker, the Great Council of the Iroquois Confederacy, 
the federation's legislature, consisted of fifty rodiyaner (civil chiefs, as op- 
posed to war chiefs) divided into three distinct "houses" according to tribal 
membership. Each of the "houses" debated issues separately, eventually 
reporting their decisions to the Onondaga, who were not part of the other 
legislatures, but served as "firekeepers." The Onondaga determined if a 
consensus had been reached among the houses. If not, they would return 
the question to the houses and demand that they reach the unanimity re- 
quired for the passage of any policy. 

The only executive person was a temporary "speaker," appointed by ac- 
clamation, who served for one day only. 

The right to nominate chiefs was hereditary, held only by clan mothers 
of certain clans from each tribe. After nomination, the candidate was then 
ratified in stages by the whole clan, the national council, the Grand Coun- 
cil of the Confederacy, and then finally by all the people. The women also 
had the power to remove the chiefs from office if they proved not to have 
"in mind the welfare of the people," as the Law says. They could also re- 
move a chief "who should seek to establish any authority independent of 
the jurisdiction of the Great Law." If the women removed a chief, they 
also nominated the replacement. 

The procedure for removing chiefs was spelled out in exquisite detail, 
as were all rules of the Great Law, including the exact words the women 
used to deliver a warning to the offending chief, then follow-up warnings 
and removal. 

In addition to the chiefs nominated by the women, the Law permitted 
the recognition of "Pine Tree Chiefs" who spontaneously sprang from the 
community. According to the Great Law these are people "with special 
ability [who] show great interest in the affairs of the nation, and (who| 
prove themselves wise, honest and worthy of confidence." Such chiefs par- 
ticipated in all council deliberations. 

The duties of the chiefs were spelled out in great detail: 



|They| shall be mentors of the people for all time. The thickness of 
their skin shall be seven spans, which is to say that they shall be proof 
against anger, offensive actions and criticism. Their hearts shall be 
full of peace and good will and their minds filled with a yearning 
for the welfare of the people of the confederacy. With endless pa- 
tience they shall carry out their duty and their firmness shall be tem- 
pered with a tenderness for their people. Neither anger nor fury 
shall find lodgement in their minds and all their words and actions 
shall be marked by calm deliberation. . . . [They] must be honest in 
all things . . . self-interest must be cast into oblivion . . . [They shall] 
look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always 
in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even 
those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground, the un- 
born of the future Nation. 

Deliberately Slow 

The Great Law contains one rule that I found particularly extraordinary 
for its democratic import and the degree of trust it reveals for the people 
of the member nations. The Law says that when an "especially important 
matter or a great emergency is presented before the council, and the nature 
of the matter affects the entire body of the Five Nations," then the council 
is not permitted to act without first going back to all of the people in the 
confederacy. The chiefs "of the confederacy must submit the matter to the 
decision of their people and the decision of the people shall affect the de- 
cision of the confederate council. This decision shall be a confirmation of 
the voice of the people." 

What is remarkable is that this rule describes a way of doing things that 
is exactly the opposite of our own. In the United States the most apoca- 
lyptic decisions, especially military ones, are always made by government, 
quickly — often secretly — without consulting the people. This speed and 
secrecy is justified precisely because of the importance of the matter and 
by the need for rapid action. Often this reflects how technology has accel- 
erated the pace of events, creating situations such as "launch on warning." 

In the United States, the president makes all war decisions. The con- 
stitutional principle that only Congress can declare war is a farce, as was 
most recently obvious in the U.S.-Iraq situation. For although Congress 
finally gave its (divided) approval for war, it came only after President 
Bush had maneuvered 450,000 troops to the front lines without approval, 
and issued a level of verbal invective against Iraq that made war impossible 
to avoid. And in preceding years, we saw U.S. presidents bomb countries 


(Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos), invade countries (Grenada, Lebanon, Pan- 
ama), and undertake indirect military actions (Nicaragua), all without 
congressional approval, let alone the approval of the people. 

I don't know of any native society in which any war chief could un- 
dertake military action without long meetings of the entire tribe, which 
could take days or even weeks. Even when a military response was ap- 
proved, warrior recruitment was voluntary. If an insufficient number of 
warriors showed up, there was simply no war, or else the war chief would 
have to go out there alone, as occasionally happened. The Iroquois Con- 
federacy institutionalized this rule, making the war decision slower and 
much more difficult. 

States' Rights 

Several rules in the Great Law were created to ensure the continued sov- 
ereignty of each member nation of the confederacy. For example, one sec- 
tion stated, ". . . The five Council Fires shall continue to burn as before 
and they are not quenched. The [chiefs] of each nation in the future shall 
settle their nation's affairs at this council fire [though] governed always by 
the laws and rules of the council of the Confederacy and by the Great 

Sound familiar? It is very close to the model adopted by Franklin and 
Jefferson for the United States Constitution. 

According to Arthur Parker, in addition to ensuring sovereignty for 
each member nation, there were also rules ensuring sexual equality, as well 
as the rights of local communities to determine their own affairs: 

The men of every clan of the Five Nations shall have a Council Fire 
ever burning in readiness for a council of the clan. When it seems 
necessary for a council to be held to discuss the welfare of the clans, 
then the men may gather about the fire. This council shall have the 
same rights as the council of the women. 

The women of every clan of the Five Nations shall have a Council 
Fire ever burning in readiness for a council of the clan. When in their 
opinion it seems necessary for the interest of the people they shall 
hold a council and decisions and recommendations shall be intro- 
duced before the Council . . . 

All of the Clan Council Fires of a nation or of the Five Nations 
may unite into one general Council Fire, or delegates from all the 
Council Fires may be appointed to unite in a general council for dis- 
cussing the interests of the people. The people shall have the right to 


make appointments and to delegate their power to others of their 
number. When their council shall have come to a conclusion on any 
matter, their decision shall be reported to the Council of the Nation 
or to the Confederate Council, as the case may require. 

The Great Law also contained specific articles concerning the rights 
and duties of war chiefs, the rules of consanguinity, the official symbolism 
of the tribes, laws of adoption, and laws of emigration and immigration 
(including political asylum). The rights of foreign nationals were spelled 
out, as well as many passages containing the exact words and procedures 
to be used for "raising chiefs," funeral addresses, installation songs, and all 
ceremonies. For example, at the opening ceremonies before each council 
meeting, the Onondaga were required to "offer thanks to the Earth where 
men dwell, to the streams of water, the pools, the springs and the lakes, to 
the maize and the fruits, to the medicinal herbs and trees, to the forest trees 
for their usefulness, to the animals that serve as food and give their pelts 
for clothing, the great winds and the lesser winds, to the Thunderers, to 
the Sun, the mighty warrior, to the moon, to the messengers of the Creator, 
and to the Great Creator who dwells in the heavens above, who gives all 
the things useful to men, and who is the source and the ruler of health and 


Two hundred years after the founding of the United States, the Iro- 
quois Confederacy is rare among American Indian nations in its successful 
resistance to U.S. efforts to dismantle the traditional government in favor 
of a new government created under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). 
The Six Nations credit the clarity and cohesiveness of their Great Law as 
the reason they have become the leaders among American Indian nations 
on issues of sovereignty, maintenance of traditional governments, and pro- 
tection of land rights. 

The Onondaga, the "firekeepers" of the Iroquois, exert particular lead- 
ership on the sovereignty issue. Now living in a small territory outside of 
Syracuse, New York, the Onondaga steadfastly maintain that neither New 
York State nor the United States has legal sovereignty over them. Onon- 
daga chiefs are frequently invited to visit and advise other Indian nations 
about maintaining and recovering their traditional governments. By now 
it is clear to most American Indians that the IRA governments have failed 
to protect traditional Indian cultural and spiritual values, and serve instead 



as an arm of the U.S. bureaucracy, making deals with the mining and de- 
velopment interests that the native peoples abhor. 

Prominent among the militant Onondaga leadership is Oren Lyons, 
Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan. I visited Lyons at his home several times 
to learn more about the subtleties and power of the Great Law. 

Now in his early sixties, as handsome as a movie star, Lyons lives alone 
in a small log house on the reservation. As a younger man, Lyons had lived 
in a far more affluent manner in non-Indian society. He had a successful 
career in New York City, as planning director for Norcross Greeting 
Cards, and as an illustrator for books and advertising. The experience left 
him with a unique ability, among Indians, to speak with ease to upper ech- 
elons of the non-Indian world. 

Lyons told me that he left his marketing career in 1967 to return to the 
reservation when he was "called by the clan mothers of the Turtle Clan" 
to replace a Turtle Clan chief who had died. He also represents the Onon- 
daga on the Iroquois Grand Council. 

Chiefs don't get paid, so Lyons partly supports himself by directing the 
Native American studies program at the State University of New York at 
Buffalo. He also paints paintings of traditional Indian subjects, and he's 
coach of the Iroquois Confederacy national lacrosse team. (At Syracuse 
University, Lyons had been an all-American goalie on the same lacrosse 
team as Jim Brown, better known for his football exploits. Lyons's dream 
is to have the Iroquois compete in the Olympics as a separate nation. The 
Iroquois team did compete in the 1990 World Games of the International 
Lacrosse Federation.) 

In 1977, Lyons was selected by the American Indian delegation to the 
United Nations Conference on Indigenous People to be one of the official 
spokespersons for all the Indians of the Western Hemisphere. The selec- 
tion was extended to Lyons in recognition of the role the Six Nations has 
played among American Indian nations as the leading advocate of tradi- 
tional Indian governments and sovereign rights. Lyons is also on the steer- 
ing committee of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary 
Leaders for Global Survival, an international ecumenical organization of 
religious and political leaders, formed to address the relationship between 
the world's environmental and spiritual problems. 

During my visits with Lyons, and in later correspondence, my goal 
was to gain further insight into the history of the Great Law, as well as 
its present-day workings within the Iroquois (Hau de no sau nee) 

Lyons cautioned me to remember that "the Great Law is [essentially] 
an oral law and [will] remain that way. In 1974, the Grand Council of 



the Hau de no sau nee rejected all written versions," said Lyons, in- 
cluding that of Arthur Parker. While many of Parker's passages are not 
objectionable, Parker's use of such devices as articles and numbers to 
define the sections has nothing to do with the oral version, and Parker's 
use of words such as "Lords" to describe the members of the Council is 
actually offensive to Indians. Lyons told me that the Indians are con- 
stantly engaged in study, discussion, and interpretation to ferret out nu- 
ances of the Great Law's meaning, and that much subtlety is lost in 
the English translations of the spoken versions. The opening prayer of 
thanks, for example, that I quoted earlier from Parker, has at least three dif- 
ferent oral versions; according to Lyons, "the shortest version is about fif- 
teen to twenty minutes long; the long version can take up to an hour and 
a half. 

"I think it is fair to say the Hau de no sau nee council of chiefs may be 
the last of the traditional governments in North America that have control 
of their territories," said Lyons. Of the six confederated nations, only the 
Mohawk have seen their traditional system succumb to an American- 
imposed governmental form, which has led to disastrous events on the Ak- 
wesasne (Mohawk) Reservation in New York State. "That is where the 
government instituted gambling operations without the consent of the 
people, and they've been fighting among themselves ever since." 

According to Lyons, the basic strength of Iroquois governance comes 
from its trust in and dependence upon the participation of all the people. 
"The word chief is an English word," said Lyons. "The Indian word hoy- 
awnah means 'the good mind,' the peacemaker. We [the chiefs) are ser- 
vants. With our nations, the leaders are directly accessible to the people. 
In nation-states like the U.S. you develop an entity separate from the 
people with accompanying power structures — for example, executive 
committees or central committees. In our government, national consensus 
is paramount. There is no process for voting. We have a system of discus- 
sion and council that requires agreements from all sides of our council fire; 
all must finally agree on the subject before them. All meetings are public. 
We cannot have a closed meeting in the long house. There are no executive 
[presidential] decisions." 

In all council meetings, "every adult member of the tribe is permitted 
to speak for as long as he or she wishes, unless they raise their voice too 
loud. There are strictures against attempting to dominate the meeting, or 
to use any measure of force, even verbal force. The idea is for everyone to 
have a say, and to say everything they wish. 

"Discussion continues until consensus is reached," Lyons said. "Its a 
very slow process. Sometimes it takes clays or weeks, but we're not in a 

2 4 2 


hurry, especially about important things." Lyons added that only in 
machine-oriented societies is there pressure to get human matters pro- 
cessed quickly, because society is moving at machine speed. 

"If everyone has spoken and still there's no decision, then the question 
is put off to the next meeting. If the issue is discussed at three meetings 
and there's still no decision, then we decide that there will be no decision. 
We stop discussing it. We figure it will come up again some other time." 

At first I was shocked by this idea of just dropping something that can- 
not be agreed upon. But eventually I realized that the Indian decision- 
making system is biased toward the idea that things don't really have to be 
changed. They can stay the way they are. If some step really is needed — 
say there's an attack of some kind — then a consensus will be reached and 
steps will be taken. The equivalent principle in American terms is "If it 
ain't broke, don't fix it." 

It's not as if decisions are not made at all. While I was present, for ex- 
ample, the tribe decided to evict several white families who had, by various 
means, insinuated themselves into houses on the reservation. Although the 
intrusion of non-Indians onto the reservation was a violation of treaties 
with the U.S. and with New York State, appeals to those governments for 
enforcement had produced no action. After three months of discussion, it 
was decided that Indians would do the evictions, and they did. 

Lyons told me that unlike many Indian nations, especially those gov- 
erned by U.S.-style IRA governments, the Onondaga "do not have to this 
day a police force or army to carry out any orders by the chiefs. Therefore 
it is elemental that the people agree before any change takes place, because 
they are the ones to carry it out." New York State police and federal agents 
are not permitted to take action on Onondaga land without the invitation 
of the Onondaga Council. (Because of this rule, fugitive Sioux Indian 
leader Dennis Banks was able to remain safe with the Onondaga, even 
though the FBI knew where he was. "He was under the protection of the 
Grand Council," said Lyons. New York police and the FBI attempted to 
negotiate with the chiefs for Banks's release, but did not succeed. So Banks 
remained, though he could not set foot ofF the Indians' land. Eventually 
Banks decided to return to South Dakota and completed his jail term.) 

I asked Lyons about the principles used to make decisions about tribal 
matters. What happens, say, if there is an act of violence by one Indian 
against another on the reservation? Lyons told me that in matters affecting 
the whole Iroquois Confederacy, questions are discussed in the Grand 
Council and its rules are followed. But in local matters, "All I can tell you 
is that every situation is seen as entirely different. We really don't have the 
kind of specific rules or laws that you have. Nothing is ever written down. 


2 43 

Well, we do have a few rules. If you rape or murder somebody, you are 
banished from the tribe for life. But we've only had one such case in thirty 
years [unlike many Indian tribes]. If you write the rules down, then you 
have to deal with the rule rather than figuring out what's fair. We're in- 
terested in principle. The principle is to be fair. We know everybody, we 
know their families, what they like, what they don't like, what's troubling 
them, what the kids may be going through. We have all the problems any 
community has. When one member intrudes on another, we have a situ- 
ation. We meet and just keep talking until there's nothing left but the ob- 
vious truth, and both families agree on the solution." 

I asked Lyons to tell me more about the role of the chiefs. He told me 
they do not function the way Westerners think. It is true that in the end 
they seem to decide what's going to happen, but this comes only after the 
whole nation has spoken for many hours and has reached an agreement. 
The chiefs only confirm what is already obvious. The chief is a kind of 
facilitator, according to Lyons, an employee. If the people don't like the 
way the chief is acting, he is removed. Technically speaking, the chiefs are 
"appointed for life," but there are standards for chiefly behavior among 
the Onondaga. If they stray from that behavior, they can be removed im- 
mediately by the clan mothers. 

"A chief can de-horn himself [the symbol of a chief's authority is a set 
of deer antlers] by certain crimes like murder, rape, or arson, or crimes 
against children," as well as other behaviors that are spelled out in the 
Great Law. "The clan mother is the one to remove the chief," said Lyons, 
employing a carefully articulated three-step process that first involves a 
warning from the women, and then actions by the other chiefs. 

Arthur Parker's translation of the Great Law suggests that a chief who 
refuses to leave can be killed, but Lyons strongly disagrees. "That sounds 
spectacular and makes good reading," he said, "but it is not true. The pro- 
cess of removing any chief is painful enough. . . . The law says if a leader 
cannot obey the tenets of the Great Law he is banished from the nation 
and he is ordered to take his followers with him. This is not applied to 
personal misconduct, but conduct that attacks the law itself and its struc- 
ture." Lyons adds that Parker's mistranslation of that element of the law 
"is the best example of why the chiefs refuse to allow English translations, 
[preferring to keep it| only in the native tongue." 

I asked Lyons to tell me what are the specific qualities sought in people 
selected to be chiefs. "Well, they're spelled out in the Great Law," he said. 
"I would say the most important ones are compassion, patience, commit- 
ment to natural law, commitment to process rather than goal |you don't 
stop the talking from running its coursej, courage, fairness, generosity, 


commitment to and love tor the seventh generation of unborn children, 
and dedication to the way of the long house | the spiritual path|. Chiefs 
cannot be Christians or of any other faith. Another quality is a kind of 
benign nature. Not too pushy." 

I wondered about this last point, concerning the chiefs' levels of ag- 
gressiveness or the use of verbal force. "It's difficult to define," he an- 
swered. "You can be very powerful if you are right and can persuade [ the 
people). Ordered thought, logic, are the persuasive tools of Six Nations' 
meetings. [But equally important] is respect for other points of view and 
opinions, and the power and patience to listen and understand." 

I finally gathered that it was a subtle point, a matter of degree. Good 
orators have an influence, but the power of oratory itself should not be 
used to overcome rationality and full discourse. 

In thinking this issue over, I remembered a meeting I had in the late 
1960s with some of the fykmongwis, the religious leaders of the Hopi Na- 
tion in Arizona. I had come to ask permission to make a film about the 
strip-mining of sacred sites on Hopi land, and expected to be able to make 
my case to the group and get a quick answer. Instead, I experienced a 
meeting unlike any I'd ever been part of before. The first half of the meet- 
ing lasted all morning, during which the kikmongwis (there were ten pres- 
ent) sat in a circle engaging in a very slow conversation, in Hopi. My 
translator, without revealing exactly what was being said, told me in gen- 
eral terms that they were discussing previous experiences with white out- 
siders who had come to them with projects, and how the issue was viewed 
from the perspective of Hopi teachings. It wasn't until midday that I was 
able to speak. I delivered my proposal in a well-organized snappy fashion, 
which took about twenty minutes. For the next several hours, the Hopi 
elders continued to discuss the matter in Hopi. It was the style of their 
discourse that amazed me, even more than the duration. Each speaker 
spoke in quiet, modulated tones, punctuated by very long silences. Mean- 
while, the others sat very still, often with their eyes closed. Sometimes they 
seemed to be asleep, but I have since realized, from several such experi- 
ences with Indians, that there is among oral cultures a unique way of lis- 
tening and remembering. They were not asleep; they were alert in a way 
that was difficult for me to see. Most of all, I was astonished that no speaker 
attempted to use any degree of persuasion on any other, except insofar as 
they expressed their own understanding of Hopi teachings on the matter 
at hand. It seemed to me to be a process of peeling away layers of consid- 
eration until nothing but a clear agreement remained. They were all 
equals in this process. 

In the end, the Hopi kjkmongwis told me they hoped I would come 


2 45 

back again and meet with them whenever my own thinking on the project 
was further developed. They never did answer yes or no, and I never did 
the film, although I did do an advertisement on their behalf about the 
mining at Black Mesa. 

I don't think the Iroquois process is precisely like the Hopi, but the 
effort to achieve consensus is absolutely at the heart of the Iroquois 
decision-making process, as it is, in fact, among most Indian nations of 
the Americas. According to Oren Lyons, the strength of consensus is the 
unanimity it eventually produces. Unlike decisions made by majority rule, 
in which there is always a dissatisfied, resistant minority, once a position 
is reached by consensus, the solidarity that emerges is awesome to behold. 

For example, the Onondaga have decided, irrevocably I'd say, that they 
will never give up more land. "Land is the most important thing the In- 
dians have," said Lyons. In fact, they are committed to regaining much of 
the treaty land that they believe was fraudulently taken from them. 

A few years ago they refused a cash offer of several hundred thousand 
dollars from a power company that wanted to put power lines along a fifty- 
foot right of way across the reservation. "One old woman stood up," Lyons 
told me, "and asserted, 'Not one more foot, ever,' and there was unanimous 
agreement right there. That one didn't take long." 

The Onondaga have turned down large amounts of money to lease a 
tiny piece of land to New York State for a highway cloverleaf. And they 
turned down money to build a garbage-processing plant on their land. 

The Onondagas have also refused to give the names and addresses of 
the children living on the reservation to the New York State Board of Ed- 
ucation. "Our treaty with New York says that in return for ceding some 
land eighty years ago, New York is to provide us schools and the money 
to run them, forever. That's how they got some of our land. But lately 
they've asked us for the names of the kids. We are never going to give up 
those names," said Lyons. 

For Oren Lyons, and the Onondaga chiefs, it's a question of maintain- 
ing the strength of native governance and sovereignty. "For the whole his- 
tory of the Iroquois we have maintained that we are a separate nation. We 
have never lost a war. Our government still operates. We have refused the 
U.S. government's reorganization plans for us. We have kept our language 
and our traditions, and when we fly to Geneva to UN meetings, we carry 
Hau de no sau nee passports. We made some treaties that lost some land, 
but that also confirmed our separate-nation status. That the U.S. denies 
all this doesn't make it any less the case." 


/f one fraudulent justification for Western aggression upon native 
lands has been that we bring the gift of democracy, an equally fraud- 
ulent justification is that we bring freedom from toil. 

Our mythology has been that native peoples live with the awful oppres- 
sion of "subsistence economics" — a term that by its mere utterance invokes 
feelings of pity and images of squalor. Our machines, our technology, and 
our superior systems of economic management offer freedom from back- 
breaking labor, the opportunity for leisure, and protection against the ar- 
bitrariness of nature s cycles. Pre-technological peoples, living hand to 
mouth in a never-ending search for food and protection from the ele- 
ments, need and want what Western society brings. So goes the story. 

Given this logic, most Westerners are shocked to find that the majority 
of native peoples on the earth do not wish to climb onto the Western eco- 
nomic machine. They say their traditional ways have served them well for 
thousands of years and that our ways are doomed to fail. These views came 
forth in Canadian jurist Thomas R. Berger s book Village Journey, which 
describes a tour through Alaskan communities faced with the onslaught 
of Western economies. Berger s book offers extensive testimony from na- 
tive Alaskans who are resisting the Western economic way. 
Suzy Erlich of Kotzebue, Alaska: 

I came from a subsistence family. I grew up that way. I am very proud 
of it. I want my children to grow up that way. It brings strength to 
us as Inupiats. It is something different than going to the store. Our 
grocery store is millions of acres wide, and it brings us pride. 



Bobby Wells of Kotzebue, Alaska: 

I remember our fathers, how they survived in this world, in strong 
winds, in cold temperatures. . . . They were taught to share, they 
were taught to help each other. . . . This time, we are fighting to sur- 
vive among different people, among different races in this Western 
civilization. What does this Western civilization have to offer? 

Alice Solomon of Barrow, Alaska: 

The people are happy . . . they caught a whale. They get really ex- 
cited, and it goes all the way, deep inside. And when you go into the 
house that caught the whale, there's that happiness, that excitement, 
that crying for joy, because they are glad they have been given that 

On the rare occasion when Westerners hear such views as these — it was 
a point of Berger's book that native peoples are hardly ever asked — we 
tend to relegate native opinions to mere ignorance. We are so thoroughly 
convinced of the Tightness of the Western technological project that we 
are determined to "improve" the native condition, even over their 

And so it has been for hundreds of years. Western attitudes today on 
such matters are no different than they have been since the seventeenth 
century. Our sense of superiority justifies the continued expansion of our 
economic system, of digging up, cutting down, and paving over the nat- 
ural world, without guilt toward the native peoples' lands we destroy in 
the process. Our mythology supports this, our economic system is based 
on it, and our financial institutions — from your local bank to the World 
Bank — aggressively seek to ensure that these ways continue. 

The system never questions itself on these points. Only recent cam- 
paigns by groups such as Rainforest Action Network and Earth First! 
have begun to challenge such attitudes and policies. But if our society ever 
really questioned its assumptions about the viability of native economies 
and asked the people within those societies how they felt about them, we 
would surely have to reassess our views. 


The publication of Marshall Sahlins' Stone Age Economics in 1972 
should have exploded most of the operative paradigms by which we define 



the beneficial aspects of our technology. A University of Chicago profes- 
sor, Sahlins uses field research from tribes all over the globe to argue pow- 
erfully that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, "primitive" societies 
(particularly hunter-gatherer communities like those in Alaska) enjoyed a 
great amount of "leisure time," satisfied their material desires and survival 
needs with little difficulty, did not work very hard, and consciously chose 
"subsistence economics": They deliberately did not accumulate surpluses. 

Sahlins writes, "Almost universally committed to the proposition that 
life was hard in the paleolithic [era], our textbooks compete to convey a 
sense of impending doom, leaving one to wonder not only how hunters 
managed to live but whether, after all, this was living." Sahlins lists some 
of the commonly used terms of denigration: "mere subsistence economy," 
"limited leisure," "absence of economic surplus," and the need for these 
societies to survive by putting out a "maximum energy from a maximum 
number of people." Sahlins calls such attitudes "the first distinctly neo- 
lithic prejudice," created deliberately to depict the hunter's relationship to 
land and resources in the manner that would be "most congenial to the 
historic task of depriving him of the same." 

Stone-age peoples were not prisoners of hard labor, says Sahlins. To the 
contrary, "a good case can be made that hunters and gatherers work less 
than we do; and, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is inter- 
mittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the 
daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society." 

banker's hours 

In his book, Marshall Sahlins quotes a i960 study by Frederick D. 
McCarthy and Margaret McArthur of aboriginal communities in Western 
Arnhem Land, Australia. The researchers added up all the time spent in 
all economic activities — plant collecting, food preparation, and weapon 
repair — over a span of several months, finding that the average male 
worked three hours and forty-four minutes per day, while the average fe- 
male worked three hours and fifty minutes per day. "The most obvious 
immediate conclusion," said Sahlins, "is that the people do not work 
hard. . . . Moreover they do not work continuously " 

According to McCarthy and McArthur, "Apart from the time spent in 
general social intercourse, chatting, gossiping, and so on, some hours of 
the daylight were also spent resting and sleeping. If the men were in camp, 
they usually slept after lunch from an hour to an hour and a half, or some- 


times even more. Also, after returning from fishing or hunting they usu- 
ally had a sleep. . . . The women, when out collecting in the forest, 
appeared to rest more frequently than the men. If in camp all day, they 
also slept at odd times, sometimes for long periods." 

The Dobe Bushmen of southern Africa offer an example from a dif- 
ferent continent. Sahlins cites research by Richard Lee demonstrating that 
the average Dobe Bushman's work week is approximately fifteen hours — 
two hours and nine minutes per day. What's more, only 65 percent of the 
population worked at all. 

Sahlins comments on this: "One man's labor among the Bushmen will 
support four or five people. Taken at face value, Bushmen food-collecting 
is more efficient than French farming was in the period up to World War 
II, when more than 20 percent of the population were engaged in feeding 
the rest. Confessedly, the comparison is misleading, but not as misleading 
as it is astonishing." Such a comparison with our own society today would 
show American farmers, only 5 percent of the population, feeding the rest 
of the country, thanks to technology. But in primitive societies those who 
feed the others do so by a cooperative arrangement — sharing turns of 
work and sharing food — that frees the rest of society to not work at all. 
In our own society, in which there is virtually no sharing, and virtual de- 
pendence upon dollar purchases of food, the non-farming 95 percent are 
not freed from work; they are strapped to some economic machine other 
than farming to produce the money they need to pay for food. 

According to Richard Lee, "A woman gathers in one day enough food 
to feed her family for three days, and spends the rest of her time resting 
in camp, doing embroidery, visiting other camps, or entertaining visitors 
from other camps. During each day at home, kitchen routines, such as 
cooking, nut cracking, collecting firewood, and fetching water, occupy one 
to three hours of her time. This rhythm of steady work and steady leisure 
is maintained throughout the year. The male hunters tend to work more 
frequently than the women, but their schedule is uneven. It is not unusual 
for a man to hunt avidly for a week and then do no hunting at all for two 
or three weeks. During these periods, visiting, entertaining and especially 
dancing are the primary activities of men." 


A common misconception is that primitive societies survive at only the 
bare minimum of existence, yet research proves otherwise. The Arnhem 

2 5 0 


Land hunters, for example, do not like a monotonous diet; they work to 
ensure themselves a wide diversity of food well beyond sufficiency. Ac- 
cording to researchers McCarthy and McArthur, the dietary intake of the 
hunters was adequate according to today's standards of the National Re- 
search Council of America. Mean daily consumption for several aboriginal 
communities was above 2,130 calories per day, which is a better nutrition 
level than is enjoyed by 15 percent of the U.S. population. 

Like the Aborigines, the Dobe Bushmen enjoyed a caloric intake of 
more than 2,100 calories per day. However, according to the calculations 
of one researcher, judging by the Bushman's average body weight, people 
only required about 1,900 calories per day. The surplus food, says that re- 
searcher, was given to the dogs. 

"The conclusion can be drawn," says Richard Lee, "that the Bushmen 
do not lead a substandard existence on the edge of starvation as had been 
commonly supposed." 

Marshall Sahlins summarizes by saying, "Hunters keep banker's hours, 
notably less than modern industrial workers," and yet, he points out, their 
food consumption is varied and adequate. They eat as much for pleasure 
as sustenance. 


In primitive societies, unlike modern industrial societies, the people 
choose not to produce at maximum levels. Incredible as it may seem to 
Western minds, "there is a conscious and consistent disregard for the no- 
tion of 'maximum effort from a maximum number of people/ " according 
to Sahlins. He goes on: "Labor power is underused, technological means 
are not fully engaged, natural resources are left untapped . . . production 
is low relative to existing possibilities. The work day is short. The number 
of days ofT exceeds the number of work days. Dancing, fishing, games, 
sleep, and ritual seem to occupy the greater part of one's time." 

As labor is underused, so are environmental resources left to "go to 
waste," a fact that drives Westerners into a frenzy to get at those "wasted 
resources." The immediate environments of many hunter-gatherer com- 
munities could easily support triple their populations, but deliberate con- 
trol of population growth, and deliberate underuse of the environment's 
full economic capacity, has kept the ratio of people to resources very small. 
Rather than using up the productive potential of the environment, stone- 
age communities chose to let some of the fruit fall to the ground, and some 
of the animals exist in peace. The people, meanwhile, are content to hang 


out, sleep, dance, flirt, and engage in the rituals and relationships that have 
meaning within these societies. "Maximum effort" indeed. 


The Western assumption is that nomadic hunter-gatherers, especially 
those who are still functional today (numbering in the tens of millions), 
would love to be free of their "subsistence" economy. But Sahlins argues 
that these people have clearly chosen their lifestyle. Even when neighbor- 
ing tribes convert themselves from hunter-gatherers into stable agricul- 
tural communities, sometimes using "advanced technological tools," many 
hunter-gatherer communities refuse that choice on the ground that it 
would require them to work harder. Richard Lee quotes the Bushmen: 
"Why should we plant when there are so many mongomongo nuts in the 

Hunter-gatherers are often called "culturally inferior" for failing to 
produce a surplus that could protect them from the whims of nature. Sah- 
lins suggests four reasons why they eschew surpluses. First, they are opti- 
mists. When there is food they tend to eat it all, even gorging themselves. 
The attitude seems to be that since food is abundant in nature, storage is 
not necessary; nature itself stores food here and there in the plants and 
animals, if you know where to find it. So even when storms or accidents 
deprive a community of food for a period of days or weeks, the results are 
rarely disastrous and you can always move on to the next place. 

Second, hunter-gatherers are nomadic by choice. If they stored or car- 
ried food they would be tied to a specific place, or have their movements 
seriously slowed. For nomadic hunter-gatherers, "It is truly said that his 
wealth is a burden," says Sahlins. The fact of movement "rapidly depre- 
ciates the satisfactions of property." 

In Lost World of the Kalahari, author Laurens van der Post has written 
about his inability to give gifts to the Bushmen: "Almost everything 
seemed likely to make life more difficult for them by adding to the litter 
and weight of their daily round. They themselves had practically no pos- 
sessions: a loin strap, a skin blanket, and a leather satchel. There was noth- 
ing that they could not assemble in one minute, wrap up in their blankets 
or carry on their shoulders for a journey of a thousand miles. They had no 
sense of possession." (In modern society, of course, "possession" may be 
our central passion.) 

Third, an economy based on storage would increase the Bushmen's im- 
pact on the environment beyond the present-day ethic of underuse. Sur- 



plus would also lead to population growth, which would threaten the 
community's mobility and increase vulnerability to natural calamities. 

Fourth, the hunter's self-esteem is based on hunting. To accumulate 
surpluses would diminish the cultural and psychological importance of 
the hunter. It might also downplay the training of the young and produce 
a lazier society with fewer skills. 

Sahlins does not argue that stone-age cultures are invulnerable to food 
shortages, but he does argue that hunter-gatherers are no more vulnerable 
than any other society. "What about the world today ? " he asks. "One-third 
to one-half of humanity are said to go to bed hungry every night. Some 
twenty million [are] in the U.S. alone. In the Old Stone Age, the fraction 
must have been much smaller. This is the era of unprecedented hunger. 
Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institu- 
tion. Reverse another venerable formula, the amount of hunger increases 
relatively and absolutely with the evolution of culture." 


The Bushmen's lack of material wealth, which we call "poverty," is put 
into a different perspective by Sahlins: 

Possession of the necessary tools is general and knowledge of the re- 
quired skills common. . . . Add in the liberal customs of sharing, for 
which hunters are properly famous, and all the people can usually 
participate in the going prosperity. . . . But of course this prosperity 
depends upon an objectively low standard of living . . . that the cus- 
tomary quota of consumables be set at a modest point . . . want not, 
lack not. 

Poverty is not a certain amount of goods, nor is it just a relation 
between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. 
Poverty is a social status ... it was not until culture neared the height 
of its material achievements that it erected a shrine to the Unattain- 
able: Infinite Needs. 

To bring the point to the present, it is worth noting the Viewpoint of 
the Yupik (Eskimo) people of Alaska. In a publication by the Association 
of Village Council Presidents, edited by Art Davidson, Does One Way of 
Life Have to Die So Another Can Live? there was this comment on how 
modern economic systems have affected the creation of poverty: 



Poverty has only recently been introduced to Native communi- 
ties. ... for thousands of years people subsisted from the land and 
ocean along the west coast of Alaska. It was a hard life, but it had 
none of the frustrations and stigmas of poverty, for the people were 
not poor. Living from the land sustained life and evolved the Yupik 
culture, a culture in which wealth was the common wealth of the 
people as provided by the earth. Whether food was plentiful or 
scarce among the people. This sharing created a bond between 
people that helped insure survival. Life was hard then, but people 
found life satisfying. Today life is getting easier, but it is no longer 

. . . With the first Russian traders came the idea of wealth and 
poverty. These new people added to the process of living the purpose 
of accumulation. Whether it was furs, money, land or the souls of 
converts, lines were drawn between people on the basis of what they 
had accumulated. . . . The new economic system . . . began replac- 
ing food and furs with cash, cooperation with competition, sharing 
with accumulating. 

The Yupik give a recent example of what happened to them at Bristol 
Bay when the subsistence economy was replaced by a new cash economy: 

Originally people subsisted from the land and sea; the tremendous 
salmon runs provided a reliable source of food. [Then] commercial 
fishing began with an attitude of get what you can. It was only a 
matter of time before urban politicians and outside economic inter- 
est permitted the salmon runs to be exploited nearly to extinction. 
The local people were left impoverished. Then the government be- 
came concerned. Then fishery research was called for, [and] "limited 
entry" demanded. Then food stamps were passed out to people who 
used to fish. Somehow or other Native people were expected to adapt 
their traditional ways to this western economic system. . . . 

White men brought diseases like measles and syphilis, which 
killed thousands of our people. ... It is not so well known that the 
economic impact of western civilization was every bit as devastating 
to the well being and spirit of the people . . . these new ways of doing 
things can be as disturbing to the life of a person or of a culture as 
the measles infection is to the life of a body. Fortunately a cure has 
been found for measles. A cure has not been found for our "pov- 
erty'*. . . . The attempted cures have involved ever-increased doses 


of the western way of life in the hope that the new system will some- 
how successfully replace the old. 

fast forward: 
leisure in technotopia 

In the United States today, according to figures from Louis Harris and 
Associates, the average work week is forty-seven hours. This is up from 
forty hours, the average of a decade earlier. More than one-third of the 
male employed population works longer than the average. According to 
the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly six million men and more than one 
million women work more than sixty hours per week at paid jobs. (This 
does not include the added unpaid domestic work of most women.) 

In certain job categories, such as self-employed farmers, entrepreneurs, 
and professional people, the typical work week is sixty hours. The heads 
of corporations average more than sixty hours of work per week. 

The figures quoted above represent a marked improvement over the sit- 
uation in 1850, the usual time period with which such figures are com- 
pared. At that time, the average work week was seventy hours, working 
conditions were far worse, and the standard of living was much lower. So 
compared with 1850, we are far better off today. But is that an appropriate 
comparison? It was around 1850 that the worst excesses of the new in- 
dustrialization were being visited upon workers, and created a new class 
of urban working poor. Compared with 1850, we are bound to look good. 

Going back to the Middle Ages, according to French sociologist Alain 
Caille, the average workday was 8/2-16 hours, depending on the season. 
But urban workers also had about 1 30 days of no wor^: holy days and vigils, 
plus Sundays and some Saturdays. "In the countryside," said Caille, "there 
[were] only 180 days of real work." And "living standards" were arguably 
as good for workers then as in the grim 1850s. As for Roman times, there 
were some 150-200 public holidays per year. And back in the stone age? 
(See Sahlins.) 

So have things really improved? Those of us who enjoy the fruits of the 
technological juggernaut have more stuff in our lives. We are cleaner and 
we live longer. But if we compare ourselves to preindustrial societies, it is 



arguable that we work harder than they did. In addition, our devotion to 
gathering and caring for commodities has created an extraordinary mod- 
ern paradox: a scarcity of time, loss of leisure, and increase of stress amidst 
an environment of apparent abundance and wealth. A decrease in the qual- 
ity of life and experience. 

This paradox was addressed in a provocative series of articles in the 
Los Angeles Times entitled "The Harried Society," by reporter Kent 
MacDougall. He argued that modern times have not increased the amount 
of leisure in our lives, but diminished it: 

Back in 1609 when the Algonkin Indians discovered Henry Hudson 
sailing up their river, they were living off the fat of the land. They 
lived so well yet worked so little that the industrious Dutch consid- 
ered them indolent savages and soon replaced their good life with 
feudalism. Today, along the Hudson River in New York, supposedly 
free citizens of the wealthiest society in the history of the world work 
longer and harder than any Algonkin Indians ever did, race around 
like rats in a maze, dodging cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, and each 
other, and dance to a frantic tempo destined to lead many to early 
deaths from stress and strain. . . . What went wrong? How, in the 
process of acquiring so much material wealth, did Americans man- 
age to lose so much leisure? 

MacDougall quotes the late anthropologist Peter Farb: "The fact is that 
high civilization is hectic, whereas primitive hunters and collectors of wild 
food . . . are among the most leisured people on Earth." And, says Farb, 
"they are among the best fed people on Earth and also among the 

MacDougall continues: "Work consumes as much of the average wage 
earner's time as it did a generation ago [actually, it takes more time now], 
while commuting to and from work takes more. And higher material liv- 
ing standards have so complicated Americans lifestyles as to require them 
to spend more time at shopping, maintenance, and housework, leaving 
them less time to enjoy all the goods and recreational opportunities at their 
disposal. ... In an age of high living standards, longer vacations, faster 
transportation, and supermarkets stuffed with convenience items, Amer- 
icans somehow have wound up feeling more harried than ever." 



On August 14, 1987, at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, 
Florida, the trial began for Seminole Chief James Billy. He was charged 
with shooting a Florida panther while on a night hunt. The United States 
has charged that killing a Florida panther is a violation of the 1973 En- 
dangered Species Act, and is punishable by one year in jail and a $10,000 
fine. The Seminole tribe argues that since it is a sovereign nation, recog- 
nized as such by treaties with the United States, it can determine its own 
rules about taking wildlife. Secondly, says the tribe, the treaties that ar- 
ranged for the Seminoles to cede land to the U.S. also guaranteed the In- 
dians the right to continue their traditional subsistence activities at their 
own discretion. (Hundreds of treaties with American Indian tribes guar- 
anteed that Indian hunting and fishing would not be subject to U.S. law. 
This condition was of major importance in getting the Indians to cede 
land, as it assured the continued viability of the traditional economy. Now, 
however, most such guarantees are under assault by commercial fishing or 
ranching interests and by U.S. agencies, which claim that Indians should 
be bound by the same rules as the rest of Americans, and that the treaties 
are ancient history. That the treaties are not as "ancient" as many binding 
real-estate agreements dating back to the early 1800s is considered irrelev- 
ent. Treaties with Indians are not given the same respect.) 

In the Seminole case, the United States now denies, as it has in other 
cases brought against Indian hunting and fishing rights, that Seminole law 
can supersede U.S. law. The U.S. argues it needs to control hunting and 
fishing to manage and protect wildlife population. But, in an interview 
with NPR radio, Chief Billy pointed out, "Our tribal laws existed for hun- 
dreds of years before the U.S. existed. We are a sovereign nation; the 
United States has acknowledged this [in treaties and other proceedings]." 
Billy says that when he shot the animal, he was just shooting two eyes in 
the dark, thinking it was another kind of cougar. He adds that in any 
event, the Endangered Species Act is an absurdity when it comes to In- 
dians: "Indians are the best conservators of any natural resource and we 
have been for thousands of years. . . . The government is attempting to 
blame the Seminoles for the destruction of a species, but the real reason 
the Florida panther is endangered is the overdevelopment of south Flor- 
ida. The reason is all these condominium communities, and the construc- 
tion of Freeway I-95 right through the swamp, and then the highway 


across the Everglades. It has nothing to do with our hunting practices. It 
has to do with yours." 

It seems quite obvious — almost self-evident — that native cultures that 
have lived successfully in one place for millennia have been abiding by suc- 
cessful economic practices, including wildlife and resource conservation. 
But if we listen to our Western scientists and governments, we would 
think that native societies can barely manage another day without com- 
puters, quotas, satellite mapping, and "maximum sustainable yield" analy- 
sis. How, I wonder, do scientists rationalize how natives have survived for 
thousands of years? Instinct? 

The assumption that our modern system of wildlife and resource man- 
agement is more efficient — despite the fact that we "manage" without any 
understanding of the environment or the way the people have managed 
prior to our arrival — is not only hubristic, but racist. 

In Chapter 4 I mentioned how computer models are being rapidly in- 
troduced for resource management in the Arctic North. A high percent- 
age of American and Canadian government "aid" to the Indian and Inuit 
peoples of the Arctic regions now comes in the form of computer training. 
That this mode of wildlife and resource management has a regrettable 
negative effect on the traditional relationships between native peoples and 
animals is rarely considered. 

Once an intimate knowledge based on close observation and centuries- 
old teachings, the relationship among humans and animals is now based 
on computer printouts, and has thus become a fast-paced, objective, ab- 
stract, quantitative kind of knowledge. This is destructive to Indian cul- 
tures and traditions. Within a generation, it is likely to shatter a mode of 
knowledge that survived for millennia. But beyond the damage done to 
cultures, recent evidence suggests that the objective-scientific-quantitative 
computer management systems rarely improve upon the native conser- 
vation and management systems. In fact, the modern systems often prove 

University of Alberta anthropologist Milton M. R. Freeman is among 
a growing number of scientists who have begun to organize resistance to 
the idea that our system of economic management has a great deal to offer 
traditional native communities. 

Freeman is particularly peeved at wildlife biologists. Speaking at the 
1984 meeting of the Western Regional Science Association (in Monterey, 



California), Freeman said: "An explicit faith in the correctness of the sci- 
entific method is so integral a part of the professional formulation of wild- 
life biologists that the limits of that particular system of belief are only 
learned, often much later in life, as a result of experience gained in the 
non-professional world." Freeman recounts instances in which wildlife bi- 
ologists ignored traditional practices, only to find them a more effective 
way of maintaining viability among animal species. 

One example concerned caribou hunting on the Ellesmere Islands of 
Arctic Canada. Canadian wildlife managers told the Inuit that they should 
hunt only large and/or male caribou, and only a few animals from each 
herd. The Inuit argued that this practice contradicted their traditional re- 
lationship with the animals and would destroy the caribou herds, but their 
pleas were ignored. The result was as the Inuit predicted. Though their 
new limit was only twenty-six kills per year — far less than the Inuit had 
hunted before — the formerly abundant population dropped sharply. 

According to Freeman, "The Inuit hold that each small group of Peary 
caribou is a social group and there is good reason for those particular an- 
imals being together. Inuit hunters point out that given the marginality of 
the environment for herbivores, older/larger animals are important to the 
survival of the group. These older animals have experience and they have 
the physical strength enabling them to dig through the snow for food. Old 
animals are also more passive relative to the more nervous younger ani- 
mals or pregnant females and this behavioral trait has a calming effect on 
the younger animals in the group." 

A second example concerns the proposal to permit sport hunting of 
musk-ox in the Arctic. Again, only the male musk-ox would be harvested; 
since the best "trophy animals" were the old, biologically "superfluous" 
bulls, the managers were sure the hunting would not negatively affect the 
musk-ox population. The Inuit said otherwise. They argued that the 
musk-ox are highly social animals. The old males are not "surplus" at all. 
They play an important social role at certain times of the year, becoming 
the regathering point after periods of dispersal during rutting. They func- 
tion like "elders," according to the Inuit. Again, the Inuit turned out to be 
correct: The government policy was eventually reversed. 

Freeman points out that this "native critique of the management pro- 
posal was based upon essentially esoteric knowledge," from direct obser- 
vance and traditional belief, since the Inuit did not actually use the 
musk-ox for meat or for anything else. Simply by sharing the land with 
the animals for thousands of years, they got to know their habits and social 



For our present purposes, it is sufficient to observe that as in the case 
of the Peary caribou example, behavioral knowledge of the species 
was the critical point of the Inuit position, contrasted with an inexact 
quantitative perspective proposed by the game management ser- 
vice. ... In reality both Native systems and western science rest on 
the same foundation — namely empirical evidence. Both systems 
place value on the systematic accumulation of detailed observations 
and the abstraction of norms from disparate data sets. At this point, 
however, the two systems begin to diverge. The Native system as- 
sesses deviation from the norm in a qualitative sense: e.g., animals 
become fewer, or fatter, or more excited, there are fewer calves in the 
herd, more injured bulls, more barren cows, etc. . . . The sum total 
of the community's empirically based knowledge is awesome in 
breadth and detail, and often stands in marked contrast to the atten- 
uated data available from scientific studies of these same 

The native management systems are also deeply ingrained in cultural 
practice, passed down from generation to generation. I have previously 
quoted from Dr. H. A. Feit concerning the exquisitely detailed manage- 
ment of wildlife resources practiced by the James Bay Cree of northern 
Ontario, including the appointment of "stewards" and the careful study 
and division of hunting regions. 

Dr. Feit has also studied some of the more subtle practices, including 
the proper rituals used in killing and cooking an animal. Most of the 
rituals are designed to demonstrate "reciprocity between man and an- 
imal . . . which includes respect for the needs of animals to survive as a 
population, and which is complemented by animals respecting the needs 
for humans to subsist and survive as well." 

Dr. Feit described the Cree methods of hunting beaver as a further 
demonstration of respect, as well as impeccable conservation practice. One 
method of hunting the beaver was during daylight, by trapping. The sec- 
ond method, at night, was to surround a beaver lodge, where 50 or 100 
may reside, and to drive them out to the waiting hunters. The first system 
was not as efficient in terms of man-hours per beaver caught. But, said 
Feit, "the important finding was that while waking the beaver could per- 
mit the capture of more beaver in total, it was used only under special cir- 
cumstances, relatively rarely ... a clear indicator that hunters choices 
limit their harvests, rather than inability to harvest more beaver. . . . More 
beaver could be caught if |the second] technique was widely used." The 
Cree were deliberately underusing their resources, according to Feit, for 



conservation purposes, and ingraining this practice with traditional teach- 
ings about when to make one choice or another. 

• • • 

Processor Freeman argues that the main problem with Western wildlife 
biology, as with most scientific interventions in age-old economic man- 
agement systems, is that the basic operating assumptions are inappropriate 
to the situation at hand. For example, says Freeman, most Western biol- 
ogists — college trained, usually white, and usually lacking direct knowl- 
edge of the environment or cultural group they are researching — will tend 
to view wildlife as a resource, and the harvesting of animals as strictly an 
economic activity. They adopt the capitalist terminology of "maximum 
sustainable yield" (the number beyond which a herd might begin to di- 
minish). The biologist essentially acts as a resource manager, like a cor- 
porate functionary, whose goal is to maximize production and contribute 
to profit. No effort is made to become sensitive to alternative views stem- 
ming from native traditions and culture. 

To native people, animals are never viewed strictly in quantitative 
terms, or as "resources." They are part of a web of living systems that in- 
cludes relationships among themselves and between them and human 
beings. These systems are passed on among natives through historical 
teachings and stories; they are further articulated through religious rituals; 
and they are part of native systems of social structure, status, and psy- 
chology. The ebbs and flows of the animal population, therefore, are in- 
separable from the continuous activities of the people. While it is possible 
that the scientific "maximum sustainable yield" might turn out to be very 
close to the numbers of animals the natives finally kill and use, the con- 
ceptual relationship to the animals, and processes involved in making 
those decisions, are entirely different. Furthermore, for native societies to 
adopt the Western conceptual processes could cause grave injury to the 
continued vitality of native culture and tradition, since their economic 
well-being is inexorably linked to their religious, social, and cultural 

When native societies decide to accept the advice of Western biologists, 
and employ Western-style wildlife management techniques, we tend to 
consider them to be acting rationally. American institutions become will- 
ing to invest. The World Bank offers development funds. And yet the 
Western mode, by failing to include the more holistic dimensions of native 
thought and practice, may ultimately prove to be the less rational ap- 
proach. It is surely less rational, in the long run, for native people. 

LESSONS in stone-ac;e economics 

As discussed earlier, indigenous societies tend to not maximize produc- 
tion, and for very good reason. They deliberately underproduce. In fact, 
according to Professor Freeman (in basic agreement with Marshall Sah- 
lins), when fortuitous circumstances do result in a surprise surplus, the fa- 
vored manner of dealing with it is not to store it or trade it. Instead, it is 
consumed as a feast. "Widespread sharing and community feasting is a 
characteristic feature of all hunting and fishing societies," says Freeman. 
"Moreover, in such societies there are values and sanctions to expressly 
guard against individual accumulation or hoarding of resources, and such 
societies have elaborate systems of kinship and social relationships that 
prescribe the channels along which the resources shall flow so that equa- 
nimity prevails in the face of the threat posed by unequal access to valued 
resources." Unlike industrial and technological societies, where the pri- 
mary purpose of economic activity is to maximize profit, "the purpose of 
nearly all economic activity in such foraging societies is directed toward 
the reproduction of the social group." So, where capitalist management 
systems emphasize numbers and individual gain, native management em- 
phasizes relationships among humans and animals, believing that balance 
is what feeds people and helps animals thrive. There is no such thing as 
"maximum sustainable yield" in the native economic outlook. 

• • • 

In order to support native communities in their efforts to maintain tra- 
ditional economic practices, Dr. Milton Freeman helped organize the 
Working Group on Traditional Knowledge, Conservation, and Rural 
Development, of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature 
and Natural Resources. Based in Geneva, this group may be the first ef- 
fective organization of scientists who take seriously the traditional meth- 
ods of managing wildlife and resources. 

Though the organization has only existed for a few years, it has shown 
tremendous vigor. A long list of programs are underway; their study proj- 
ects include traditional knowledge of coastal systems, traditional fisheries 
management among South Pacific islanders, ecological and hunting prac- 
tices of peoples of the Northern Circumpolar region, traditional agrofor- 
estry and conservation practices among the tribal peoples of New Guinea, 
practices of microclimate management among farming peoples, the pres- 
ervation of the traditional knowledge of Native Alaskans, and the use of 
fire in agriculture among the Aborigines. 

The urgency of the task at hand was articulated by Working Group 
member Dr. Bob Johannes: 



Much of what we know about the nature and management of nat- 
ural resources in developed countries can be found in libraries. 
I Among native communities], however, much of it resides only in 
the heads of older men and women in the villages. Scientists have 
come to realize within the past few years that such knowledge con- 
cerning the forest, the garden, the plains, and the sea, is both ency- 
clopedic and of major scientific value, particularly as it relates to 
natural resource management. But it is being lost rapidly as a result 
of westernization, industrialization, urbanization, and the concom- 
itant alienation of the young from their traditions. . . . Recording 
this knowledge is an urgent matter. Allowing it to vanish amounts 
to throwing away centuries of priceless practical experience. 

Johannes warns of certain pitfalls, however, including the fact that 
many researchers do not exhibit respect for the peoples they are studying, 
often rushing to get answers and causing the communities internal conflict 
about whether or not to participate. 

Also, according to Working Group member Diane Bell of Australian 
National University, in certain societies such as the Aborigines, much in- 
formation is the province of women, who tend to refuse to report it to 

Finally, there is the major issue cited by the Working Group of scien- 
tists' failure to recognize the rights of the native peoples they deal with. 
When Western researchers have discovered, for example, a medicinal 
herbs curative powers, the scientists have often sold the information for a 
large profit to Western corporations without any corresponding benefit for 
the natives. In fact, the scientists usually leave the scene and do not return 
to aid the same native peoples when their lands are assaulted by outsiders. 
Many examples of this can be found among the native peoples of the Am- 
azon. Though many scientists gleaned profitable information from the In- 
dians of the region, few have stood up to defend the natives who are now 
under direct assault. 

When they ignore the concrete political situations that Indians face, 
Western scientists are merely mimicking corporate amorality. Indians, 
their knowledge, and their environment fall within the Western definition 
of "resource," and are thus subject to exploitation. The idea that Western 
intervention is somehow improving the lot of the natives — their govern- 
ment, their health, their economics — is self-aggrandizement at best. More 
likely it is a public relations mask designed to shield the scientists, the cor- 
porations, and you and me, from a true recognition of the horror of what 
is happening. 



/at the later stages of an epic worldwide struggle, the forces of Western 
economic development are assaulting the remaining native peoples of the 
planet, whose presence obstructs their progress. In some places the assault is vi- 
olent; elsewhere, as here in the United States, it is legalistic. Given the lac\ of 
public awareness and the misreporting by the media, a "final solution' for the 
native problem is deemed lively. Upon the ultimate outcome of this battle will 
depend whether a living alternative world view, rooted in an ancient connec- 
tion with the Earth, can continue to express what is insane and suicidal about 
the Western technological project. 

l 5 


The Case of the Hopi and Navajo 

The prevailing view that native peoples are too backward to cre- 
ate democratic governments has been a primary rationalization by 
which Westerners have historically justified intervening in their societies. 
Our stated goal has been to raise the "primitives" to our own higher level. 

However, as discussed in Chapter 13, the evidence actually shows that 
most of the governmental systems of the Indian nations of North America 
were non-imperial, non-hierarchical, and democratic. This applies to tra- 
ditionally nomadic nations as well as sedentary agricultural nations. Out- 
side intervention into these democratic systems was not to help them; it 
was to destroy them. 

From an American viewpoint, there were three problems with nearly 
all traditional Indian governments: 1) communal ownership of all land 
and religious strictures against selling it, 2) consensual decision-making, 
and 3) lack of a central hierarchical authority, who had power to make 
binding deals. When Americans made contact with Indians, we wanted to 
make deals for land and for resources. And we wanted the deals now. The 
traditional forms of Indian governance represented a roadblock to our 
deal-making and expansion: They were slow, they were democratic, and 
they would never agree to give up land. So they had to go. 



During some periods of American history, we used military force to 
overpower Indians and drive them off the lands we wanted. Later, we suc- 
ceeded in coercing the Indians into treaties, which we then broke or ig- 
nored. Recently, we have subverted traditional Indian governments 
through manipulations, in which we act as if we are helping, but we aren't. 
In certain ways, every story in this book about Indian-white interaction is 
an example of the attempted disruption of Indian sovereignty and auton- 
omy. But this chapter explores the issue in detail, using the examples of 
the Hopi and Navajo of the American Southwest. I discuss these two na- 
tions for three reasons: 

• First, they represent contrasting traditional governmental systems, ap- 
propriate for very different lifestyles. The Navajo are traditionally a no- 
madic people, and their government system is typical of nomadic 
communities throughout the world. The Hopi, on the other hand, were 
(and are) stable village dwellers with an agricultural base who have lived 
in a series of independent city-states. 

• Second, outside intervention has thrown these two societies into an ap- 
parent conflict, which has been wildly misreported in the American 
press as a conflict between tribal peoples. It is actually a conflict between 
"puppet governments," created and controlled by the United States. 

• Third, the Navajo and Hopi peoples are presently suffering one of the 
most atrocious acts against Indian people ever to take place on this con- 
tinent: the forced removal of 10,000 Navajo and Hopi from their ances- 
tral homes. That this displacement, which is having horrible 
consequences upon the people, could happen today — more than a cen- 
tury after General Custer and Andrew Jackson — reflects the essential 
continuity of American attitudes to this time. 


On October 28, 1979, a community of Navajo Indians who live in and 
around a place called Big Mountain, in the northern desert of Arizona, 
issued a declaration of independence from the United States, the State of 
Arizona, and the Navajo tribe as it is officially recognized by the United 
States government. That this declaration of independence was scarcely re- 
ported in the United States press (as compared, say, with similar declara- 
tions from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and other Eastern European 
nations) is further indication of the problem Indians face with the media. 



The precipitating issue was U.S. Public Law 95-531, which requires the 
relocation of some 10,000 Navajo and Hopi Indians from land they've 
been occupying their entire lives, which has also been occupied by their 
grandparents and many generations of ancestors going back hundreds of 
years. The new law changes the status of what has been called the Joint 
Use Area (JUA) in which Big Mountain is located and which the Hopi 
and Navajo have shared. Under the new law, half the JUA becomes part 
of the Hopi reservation and half becomes Navajo. Whoever is on the 
wrong side of the new partition line has to move, usually to off-reservation 
border towns such as Winslow, Gallup, and Tuba City. 

The people who live in the Joint Use Area are among the largest self- 
sufficient communities still existing within U.S. boundaries. They have 
lived in a traditional subsistence manner, raising sheep and growing what 
they need. Many are old; many do not speak English. Most have never held 
a wage-earning job; they barely relate to the money economy. 

To move these Indians will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers about a quar- 
ter of a billion dollars in direct costs, plus another three-quarters of a bil- 
lion dollars in indirect social costs. Among the Indians who have already 
been relocated, the rate of death, sickness, alcoholism, depression, suicide, 
and poverty is extraordinarily high. They bitterly miss their desert homes. 
They have never lived in cities, or paid gas bills, or dealt with welfare agen- 
cies. Some have already lost their new homes to loan sharks. Others simply 
abandon them and return to the desert, only to find their prior homes bull- 
dozed, and to face yet another forced relocation. 

The United States government portrays itself in this issue as a peace- 
maker, and blames the problem on an "age-old land dispute between the 
Hopi and Navajo." Whenever an occasional press report has appeared, it 
has accepted the official line on the story, sporting headlines such as Indian 
range wars, and featuring bitter quotes from Hopi and Navajo tribal 
chairmen attacking each other. 

But if you actually go to that desert, which is about as far as you can get 
from the United States (save Alaska) and still be within it, you will not 
find conflict between the Hopi and Navajo who live there. What dispute 
exists is not among them, but between the U.S. -created Tribal Councils. 

To the people living at Big Mountain, and to all traditional Hopi and 
Navajo, these tribal councils are as alien as George Bush is to a Microne- 
sian islander. In traditional Hopi and Navajo government systems there 
was no such thing as "tribal councils" or any central governmental au- 
thority. The traditional people don't recognize the authority of these coun- 
cils; instead they say the councils are artificial inventions of U.S. policy. 
What's really going on, say the natives, is that the U.S. and the puppet 



councils want to kick people off the land to make way for large-scale 
ranching, coal strip-mining, and uranium exploration. 

"There's no dispute between the Navajo and Hopi," according to Hopi 
elder Thomas Banyacya, "it's the Tribal Councils and the big energy com- 
panies and the U.S. government who are in dispute against the Navajo and 
Hopi who live on the land. The Great Spirit didn't want that land dug up 
to create nuclear weapons. If you were born on that land then that land is 
your home. . . . The [Hopi] prophecies say the Navajo will intermarry and 
trade with us, and we'll hold the land together." 

The declaration of independence was signed by sixty-four elders of the 
Independent Dine Nation at Big Mountain, with Roberta Blackgoat as 
chairperson. An excerpt of it reads as follows: 

The U.S. government and the Navajo Tribal Council have violated 
the sacred laws of the Dine [Navajo] Nation . . . [dividing] the in- 
digenous people by boundaries of politics, Euro-American educa- 
tion, modernization, and Christianity. The U.S. denies our right to 
exist as indigenous people on Mother Earth. . . . Our sacred shrines 
have been destroyed. Our Mother Earth is raped by the exploitation 
of coal, uranium, oil, natural gas and helium. . . . We speak for the 
winged beings, the four-legged beings, and those who have gone be- 
fore us and the coming generation. We seek no changes in our live- 
lihood because this natural life is our only known survival and it's 
our sacred law. 


American anthropologists like to make a big deal of the cultural differ- 
ences between the Navajo and the Hopi. One well-published anthropol- 
ogist once told me, "There's a greater cultural difference between a Navajo 
and a Hopi than between either of them and a New Yorker ." He made the 
remark with such certainty that I took it on faith. But after I'd spent 
enough time out there in the desert it dawned on me that colonizing cul- 
tures like to exaggerate the differences and conflicts among the colonized. 
It makes it somehow okay for us to be there. It rationalizes our military 
intervention, and makes us the good guys. 

This is not to say there are no differences. Most obvious is that the Hopi, 
for at least a millennium, have been stable village dwellers who live by 
agriculture, while the Navajo have been nomadic sheepherders. But as we 
will see, the similarities are greater than the differences. 



The Hopi people are directly descended from the Anasazi cliff dwellers 
who inhabited Mesa Verde (in the southwest corner of Colorado) and, 
before that, Chaco Canyon (in New Mexico), for at least 10,000 years, 
according to most archeologists. There they built their spectacular 
multistory apartment villages, some of which are still standing. For rea- 
sons that are unclear (the presently prevailing assumption is drought), the 
Anasazi people left Mesa Verde and headed south and west, eventually 
forming some twenty pueblo communities in what is now Arizona and 
New Mexico. The group that became the Hopi have been living in what 
is now central Arizona since at least 1000 a.d. The Hopi village of Old 
Oraibi, built in 1 100 a.d., is believed to be the oldest continuously occupied 
community in North America. Other Hopi villages are clustered within 
about fifty miles on three high mesas in the desert, where the beauty and 
efficiency of the traditional pueblo-style apartments still amaze visitors. 

The Hopi farmlands surround the villages within a five- to ten-mile 
radius. Most Hopi farmers commute to the fields in the traditional manner 
of Pueblo people: They run. 

The Hopi are often described as "the world's most proficient dry farm- 
ers," since for centuries they have been successfully growing corn, beans, 
and squash in a desert that receives less than ten inches of rainfall annually. 
The Hopi credit their improbable success to their spiritual practices, which 
place all of life within a cycle of Earth-related ceremonies and activities 
that help them know exactly when to plant, how to place the seeds, and 
exactly where the seed will be able to draw from the underground water 
table. Hopi ceremonies, they say, not only bring abundance from the sand 
but also "keep the whole world in balance." 

Traditionally, the Hopi keep only the number of animals needed for 
their immediate family. In fact, one distinction between the traditional 
Hopi and the new breed of "progressive" Hopi is that the latter practice 
large-scale herding and ranching on "private" land. Another distinction is 
that most of the new ranchers are Hopi who have converted to Mormon- 
ism, and have abandoned traditional cultural and religious practices. 

Hopi City-States 

In the traditional Hopi system, there was no such thing as a "tribal 
council." Nor, for that matter, was there any kind of central government 
that united all of the Hopi people. Since at least the tenth century, each 
Hopi village has been a totally autonomous self-governing entity. The 
bonds among the villages are cultural and spiritual but not "political" in 



the sense that we tend to think of it. The villages are bound together, but 
in ways unfamiliar to us. 

Each Hopi village contains one to four distinct clans and each clan has 
a hjkmongwi, the nearest thing to a leader or chief that the Hopi know. 
This fyfynongwi is selected by a partially secret process, based on religious 
training, knowledge of the ceremonial cycles, possession of certain objects, 
heritage, and consensual agreement of all the people of the village. 
Though the Hopi reckon descent and property ownership by matrilineal 
means, the fykmongwi is usually (but not always) male. There is no real 
authority vested in the kikmongwis, except insofar as they are respected as 
teachers, wise persons, and reliable sources of traditional religious knowl- 
edge. They cannot order anyone to do anything. Decisions are made in 
community meetings, in which the kikmongwis play a facilitating role. 

All of the Hopi clans gather together many times each year for religious 
events and celebrations. Each clan has a very specific and distinct role to 
play in each event, which means that all of the clans are needed to complete 
the entire Hopi religious cycle, and all the clans are equally interdepen- 
dent. So the Hopi Nation is actually a collaboration or collection of dis- 
parate clans, for the purpose of religious, cultural, and political activity. 

When there are matters of great importance that affect all of the Hopi 
people, the kjkjnongwis meet to talk things over. There is no leader in this 
process. The kikmongwis are there to share information and to develop a 
shared understanding of the situation. They do not take any kind of uni- 
fied action, except occasionally to join forces to make a public statement. 

As for laws, the Hopi say that the only laws are "natures laws," which 
they claim to protect, on behalf of all the people on the planet. These laws 
can never be changed. One such law is that land is never sold. Another is 
that land is never opened up to take anything from within it. Those par- 
ticular laws, which traditional Hopi continue to observe, are most threat- 
ening to the United States of America. Similar laws among the Navajo are 
similarly threatening. 


The Navajo are an Athabascan people, directly related to the Apache 
and to the Dene Indians of northern Canada, from whom they descended. 
The Navajo and Apache migrated from what is now Canada in about 
1400 a.d. While the Apache continued southward, the Navajo adopted a 
range to the east of the Hopi villages, and to the north and west of the 
other Pueblo peoples who already inhabited New Mexico. 


Like some other nomadic peoples, the Navajo were given to raiding. 
During the first century of their presence in New Mexico they had skir- 
mishes with several of the southern Pueblo peoples, though apparently not 
with the Hopi. 

When the Spanish showed up around 1500, they conquered the Pueb- 
los, under the guise of protecting them from "marauding Athabascans." 
The Spanish were also "peacemakers." 

"Such explanations were often used to justify Spanish conquest," ac- 
cording to Roxanne Ortiz, author of Roots of Resistance, "yet the Pueblo 
people frequently went to live with the Navajo during times of crisis, and 
some of the Navajo wintered with the Pueblo. . . . There is ample evi- 
dence to show that the two peoples were not enemies." 

By contrast, everyone hated the Spanish. By 1690, the Navajo were host- 
ing a series of secret meetings among all the tribes, which resulted in the 
Navajo joining with the Pueblo and the Hopi in a simultaneous revolt that 
overthrew Spanish rule and temporarily reestablished the sovereignty of 
the individual tribes. Even after the Spanish reasserted their domination 
two decades later, relationships among the tribes were peaceful and 

The Spanish were finally eliminated from the scene altogether at the 
conclusion of the U.S. -Mexican War, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hi- 
dalgo was signed in 1854. Among the notable elements of that treaty (not 
taught in U.S. schools) was that all the Pueblo peoples, including the Hopi, 
were officially recognized as sovereign independent nations. But as soon 
as the treaty-makers went home, white settlers, most of them Mormons, 
began encroaching onto sovereign Hopi lands. This led to serious friction 
between the Hopi and the whites. 

Hopi resistance is usually expressed passively. But such is not the case 
for the Navajo. Navajo bands repeatedly attacked the white settlements 
until General Kit Carson led a huge cavalry brigade against them. In a 
series of horrible scorched-earth actions that destroyed all the Navajo an- 
imals and orchards, Carson eventually trapped some 8,500 Navajo in a 
canyon and starved them. Thousands died; finally the survivors yielded, 
culminating in the forced "Long March" of 1864, across New Mexico to 
an internment camp at Fort Sumner. 

Most of the Navajo remained there for four years. Some, however, had 
evaded Carson's capture. Others escaped and fled west toward Hopi coun- 
try, creating the first significant pressure on the Hopi from the Navajo in 
more than four centuries of contact. 

When the rest of the Navajo were finally released from internment, 
they were given two sheep each, told to give up being nomads, and placed 



onto the most barren region of the southwest desert, on a tiny, dry reser- 
vation. Unable to survive on this land the Navajo headed toward their fel- 
low clanspeople who had moved near the Hopi, thereby increasing 
pressure upon the agricultural people. 

Despite all this, the Hopi hjkmongwis were less concerned about the Na- 
vajo, with whom they had worked things out in the past, than they were 
about the white settlers on Hopi farmlands in the desert, and about the 
U.S. government's increased meddling. The Hopi argued that their status 
as an independent nation was guaranteed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hi- 
dalgo, and that the United States should live up to its pledge to keep the 
whites out. But this was the era of Manifest Destiny. Instead of ejecting 
the white intruders from Hopi land, the government response was to uni- 
laterally create a reservation for the Hopi. They ignored the Treaty of 
Guadalupe Hidalgo, defied Hopi sovereign status, and reduced Hopi ter- 
ritory by 60 percent. What s more, a portion of the land that the U.S. de- 
clared a Hopi reservation was actually land that the Navajo were living upon. 
This is the same land that, many years later, became a Joint Use Area for 
the two tribes, to the chagrin of the Hopi. This is the very area that is 
currently in dispute. The U.S. never did anything to recover Hopi land 
that was illegally occupied by whites. 


Throughout this period, relations between the Navajo and Hopi, 
thrown into uncomfortably close quarters by decisions of the United 
States, remained surprisingly good. The most exhaustive and scholarly 
study of their relations, a 1978 Indian Law Resource Center report titled 
Report to the Kikmongwis, found that as late as 1884 the Bureau of Indian 
AfFairs (BI A) agent in the region was reporting the following to Washing- 
ton: . . Trifling quarrels arise between members of the two tribes; these 
are usually caused by careless herding of the young Navajos who allow 
herds to overrun outlying Hopi gardens . . . but the best of good feeling 
generally exists between these tribes; they constantly mingle at festivals, 
dances, etc. . . . The Hopi barters his surplus melons with his old pastoral 
neighbors for their mutton and wool." 

The differences between the Navajo and the Hopi actually created a 
complementarity that brought them closer. Where traditional Hopi life is 
connected to farming, Navajo spiritual and economic life is intertwined 
with the health and well-being of their animals — horses, goats, and es- 
pecially sheep. This created an organic symbiosis between the tribes: Meat, 


wool, and woven goods were exchanged for corn, squash, melons, and pot- 
tery. It was a business connection, which also became social. Considerable 
intermarriage ensued. 

The nomadic Navajo eschewed the mesa-top Hopi villages, but moved 
their families and herds through the desert from one strategically placed 
hogan (the traditional Navajo round wood-mud shelter) to another, along 
routes chosen for the location of hundreds of sacred sites: wells, rock for- 
mations, and places where certain medicinal and religious herbs were 
known to grow. 

While the Hopi and Navajo economies were different (but comple- 
mentary), in more subtle areas, the cultures were (and are) actually quite 
alike. For example, both Hopi and Navajo cultures place religious prac- 
tices at the heart of everything in life. Both invest enormous spiritual 
power in the land, and regard it as a living being. For both tribes, to open 
up land to obtain minerals, or to disfigure the earth, or to attempt to exploit 
it for personal use, were unthinkable acts — until they were performed by 
whites. (In this respect all American Indian cultures are alike. The land 
itself is alive and it sustains all creatures, including humans. All people 
hold the land, water, animals, and forests in common; no one owns them.) 

The political structures of the Hopi and Navajo also have much in 
common. Like the traditional Hopi, the traditional Navajo never had any- 
thing remotely resembling a "tribal council." Like the Hopi, all Navajo 
political power was local, decentralized, fluid, and consensual. 

Among the Navajo, the main political unit is the autonomous extended 
family, which may number from 20 to 300 people who collaborate on all 
economic and spiritual aspects of life. Each extended family has a "head- 
man" (a BIA term) who is actually almost always a woman. As with the 
Hopi, descent among the Navajo is reckoned matrilineally. Navajo house- 
holds, sheep, and general family welfare fall within the domain of the Na- 
vajo women. Even today, among traditional families, it's the women who 
control the herds. It is not surprising that the three major violent incidents 
against United States agents, attempting to enforce various stages of the 
relocation, involved women over sixty years old carrying rifles. 

Like the Hopi, the Navajo Nation had no central authoritative power. 
Navajo relate strongly to each other as a people, but their cohesion is based 
upon common roots, language, culture, ceremonies, geography, and econ- 
omy. There are often "tribal" gatherings for celebration, trade, or common 
defense, but within this nation, decision-making was traditionally decen- 
tralized, and spread out among all the extended families. At least that's the 
way it was until 1923, when the United States government directly inter- 
vened in the traditional governmental process, creating a totally artificial 

2 74 


Tribal Council. The council was desperately needed, not by the Navajo, 
but by the United States. Its only function was to "legally" approve the 
leasing of oil and minerals to Standard Oil, something the traditional gov- 
ernance system would never have permitted. 


The United States had a big headache. We wanted to get at the gold, 
coal, oil, copper, tin, minerals, and land. We wanted to work things out 
with the Indians but it was difficult to deal with nations that had no central 
authorities, no one to make binding decisions for the whole population. It 
was hard to find out where all the people met and who was in charge. Who 
could sign on the dotted line? These governments, such as they were, were 
so very slow, and they operated by "natural laws" that were immutable; 
and they viewed the land as Being or Spirit, never to be sold or bartered. 
It was clear the situation needed to change, and we set out to do that in a 
variety of ways. It began with the children. 

Step i. Removal of the Children 

The United States undertook the forced removal of Indian children from 
their families, and placed them in distant boarding schools, for "the benefit 
of the Indians." We argued that this would help the children break away 
from boundaries of a culture that diminished the children's ability and 
desire to partake in American society. In each part of the country, the policy 
was executed in slightly different ways. Among the Hopi, it began in the 
1880s when the cavalry moved the kids to BIA schools at Keams Canyon, 
Arizona. There the Hopi children were forbidden to speak the Hopi lan- 
guage, to wear Hopi clothes, or to keep their traditional long-haired styles. 
They were given English names to replace their Hopi names and all Hopi 
customs were outlawed. All Hopi children were required to undergo re- 
ligious indoctrination, much of it by Mormons. (Mormonism is now the 
dominant religion among the "progressive" [non-traditional] Hopi.) 

Mormonism teaches, among other things, that dark skin is a punish- 
ment from God. The Bool{ of Mormon says, . . after they [the Indians] 
had dwindled in unbelief, they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy 
people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations." If Indians accept 



the Mormon church, however, . . many generations shall not pass away 
among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people." In other 
words, accept Mormonism and you start turning white. 

When Hopi parents resisted sending their kids to schools, the cavalry 
tore the children from their parents' arms and then arrested the parents. 
This policy continued into the 1930s. 

The forced separation of Indian children from their parents was very 
successful from the United States point of view. It created a whole gen- 
eration of Indians trained to hate their Indian-ness, and indoctrinated 
them with American religious, social, and economic values. These chil- 
dren were the Indians the United States would later reward with "tribal 

Step 2. The Dawes (Allotment) Act of 1887 

While the kids were being torn from their parents' arms, the land own- 
ership question was addressed very bluntly by the Allotment Act of 1887. 
Also known as the Dawes Act, it was named after the congressman who 
made no bones about its purpose: ". . . breaking up of the tribal land 

The Dawes Act, which applied to most of the Indian tribes in the coun- 
try, took the remaining tribal lands and divided them into 160-acre par- 
cels. The parcels were then to be applied for by individual Indian families, 
who would thenceforth own the land in their individual names, and could 
sell it as well. Surplus land, i.e., tribal land left over from the 160-acre al- 
lotments distributed to individual members, was controlled, leased, and 
sold by the U.S. government, invariably to whites. 

Amazingly, the Dawes Act, like the boarding school removal policy and 
most other Indian-related acts right up through the Alaska Native Claims 
Settlement Act, was considered a liberal reform that would benefit the In- 
dians. In the late nineteenth century, the solution to "the Indian problem" 
was "assimilation," which in turn required the development of individu- 
alism and a sense of competitive economic self-interest among Indians. 
Such arguments were actively voiced by the leadership of a growing 
"Friends of the Indians" movement throughout the country, of which 
Dawes was an outspoken member. 

Another leader of "Friends of the Indians" was Dr. Merrill E. Gates, 
the president of Amherst College. In The White Man's Indian, Robert 
Berkhofer, Jr., quotes a speech by Gates about the virtues of individual 
private property for Indians: 



To bring [the Indian] out of savagery into citizenship ... we need to 
awaken in him wants. In his dull savagery, he must be touched by 
the wings of the divine angel of discontent. . . . Discontent with the 
teepee and the Indian camp ... is needed to get the Indian out of 
the blanket and into trousers — and trousers with a pocket in them, 
and with a pocket that aches to be filled with dollars! 

Here is an immense moral training that comes from the use of 
property. Like a little child who learns the true delight of giving 
away only by first earning and possessing what it gives, the Indian 
must learn that he has no right to give until he has earned, and that 
he has no right to eat until he has worked for his bread. Our teachers 
upon the reservations know that frequently their lessons . . . are ef- 
faced and counteracted by the [Indians'] old communal instincts and 
customs. . . We have found it necessary, as one of the first steps in 
developing a stronger personality in the Indian, to make him re- 
sponsible for property. Even if he learns its value only by losing it, 
and going without it until he works for more, the educational pro- 
cess has begun. 

Senator Dawes himself used similar language to explain his sponsor- 
ship of an act that had, as its principle virtue, the creation of selfishness. 
He is quoted in Blood of the Land by Rex Weyler: 

The head chief [of the Cherokees] told us that there was not a family 
in that whole nation that had not a home of its own. There was not 
a pauper in the nation, and the nation did not owe a dollar. . . . Yet 
the defect of the system was apparent. They [the Indians] have got 
as far as they can go, because they own their land in common. . . . 
There is no enterprise to make your home any better than that of 
your neighbor's. There is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of 
civilization. Until this people consent to give up their lands and di- 
vide them among their citizens so that each can own the land he cul- 
tivates, they will not make much progress. 

The "progress" the Dawes Act finally achieved among Indians in this 
country was considerable. It lost them more than 60 percent of their tribal 
land base, plus most of the individually held allotted lands, due to fraud 
by white buyers. It created poor economic management, such as the need 
to sell to pay off debts, in an economic system that was alien to them. If 
you add to this the Indian lands that have been leased to white economic 
interests, the estimated total loss of the Indian land base was about 90 

The Allotment Act may have been the greatest single blow to Indian 


2 77 

sovereignty ever in this country, since it struck at the heart of the funda- 
mental collectivism of Indian economic and political life. Once the tra- 
ditional collective ways were broken, the individual Indian was easier to 
manipulate and coerce. That process is being repeated now in Alaska via 
the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, as we will see in the next 

Curiously, the Allotment Act did not have as much effect upon the 
Hopi and Navajo as among other Indian nations. Communal land- 
holding was so ingrained among the Hopi in particular that when allot- 
ment surveyors came out to measure off the Hopi plots by day, the Indians 
would surreptitiously remove the stakes and markings at night. As for the 
Navajo, the land they were given following their release from Kit Carson's 
concentration camp was an area of desert so barren that no whites were 
interested. But other processes proved just as subversive to both the Hopi 
and Navajo. 

Step 3. The Creation of Puppet Governments 

The next stage of U.S. assault took direct aim at Indian governmental 
structures. Among the Navajo, the key date was 1921, when Standard Oil 
found oil on Navajo land. Up to that time, most mineral and oil explora- 
tions were very small-scale and tentative. An 1880s law was still on the 
books, which stipulated that all mineral and oil prospectors needed to ob- 
tain leases from "the authority of the council speaking for the Indians." 
But among the Navajo, with their fluid, traveling, clan-oriented, decen- 
tralized government, there was no such authority to make lease agree- 
ments. So the Bureau of Indian Affairs would literally create fictitious 
councils for the specific purpose of approving a lease. 

The process was described by historian Lawrence Kelly in The Navajo 
Indians and Federal Indian Policy: "The calling of a Navajo council in these 
early years of the twentieth century was a routine and even casual event. 
The local agent would issue a call for all adult males to convene at the 
agency's headquarters on a given date. . . . Once a council had been held, 
the Indians disbanded." 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not mince words about the purpose 
of this process. In its 191 5 position paper on the subject the Bureau said, 
". . . so long as the council can be used and controlled it should be a great 
benefit to the Indians . . The Navajo didn't think so, however. Another 
BI A document pointed out that "It's been with considerable effort that we 
have been able to restrain the Indians from taking vigorous action against 
the prospectors." 

2 7 8 


And so in 192 1 when Standard Oil asked for approval of its exploration 
plans, the Bureau of Indian Affairs started searching for a bunch of Na- 
vajo who could come together and provide "official" approval. Finally 
seventy-five male Navajo did gather but, in a surprising expression of re- 
volt, voted seventy-five to zero to refuse Standard Oil's request. Nonethe- 
less, since the Bureau of Indian Affairs considered each of these councils 
temporary, it just created another one, which also refused to grant the 
lease. A third council, picked with great care, finally did okay it. 

By now it was clear to the BIA and to the oil companies and mining 
interests that this creative BIA process was a bit too creative, informal, and 
unpredictable. The Bureau decided to convene a new council, but this time 
the BIA would get it to vote permanent "broad-based authority to the BIA 
itself." After two years, the BIA agent finally formed a new Navajo council 
that included regions not formerly represented, and anointed it with a 
continuous existence. In fact, it became the embryo of today s Navajo 
Tribal Council. 

According to Lawrence Kelly, the first act of the new council in 1923 
was to give away all of its own leasing authority to the Bureau of Indian 
Affairs, which thenceforth made all deals without approval of the tribe: 
"One of the reasons for the Navajo acceptance of the Department's pre- 
pared resolution [to give away its own power] appears to have been the 
assurance that in return . . . the Indians would receive government aid in 
securing new lands. . . . The BIA commissioner was not above coercing 
them with the argument. The Navajos, he explained, would suffer more 
than anyone else if they failed to grant a consent." So they consented. And 
they did get some new land, which was taken from — guess who? The 

So the new Navajo Tribal Council — the predecessor of today s Navajo 
Tribal Council — was born as a creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 
Its main purpose was to give away the tribe's traditional rights to control 
what happens on tribal lands. As its reward, the Tribal Council got a piece 
of Hopi land, which is part of the land that the Hopi Tribal Council (also 
a BIA creation, as we will see in a moment) now wants back. 

The creation of the Navajo Tribal Council as an arm of the United 
States bureaucracy was achieved sixty years ago. From the U.S. govern- 
ment point of view, the result has been excellent. There are now four coal 
strip mines on the Navajo reservation and five giant coal-fired power 
plants. There are also thirty-eight uranium mines and six uranium mills. 

From the point of view of the Navajo people, an area once considered 
to have the cleanest air in the United States now has heavy black smoke 



and soot. Uranium miners — most of them Navajo — suffer a lung-cancer 
rate several times higher than the national average. Groundwater tables 
have been drastically lowered because the water has been pumped to serve 
the coal slurry lines; this, in turn, has made it more difficult than ever to 
grow corn in the desert. Groundwater tables have also been irradiated as 
a result of numerous uranium spills; there are instances of horses and 
sheep dying from drinking runoff water. Uranium tailings have been left 
in huge uncovered heaps all over the reservation. Some Navajo have built 
hogans made from these tailings. Children play in them. 

What's more, under the Bureau of Indian Affairs' financial manage- 
ment, the deals that were made on behalf of the tribe for coal, oil, and 
uranium were among the worst ever made in this country and the whole 
world. In one case the Navajo tribe received a royalty of fifteen cents per 
ton of coal — one-tenth the $i-5o-per-ton price that applied on non-Indian 

And the Tribal Council? Until recently it remained little more than a 
rubber stamp for the BIA, as it was originally intended to be. But things 
changed a decade and a half ago with the election of Peter MacDonald to 
the chair of the Council. However one feels about MacDonald — who, in 
my opinion, was a kind of dictator — he was the first tough negotiator the 
tribe ever had, and he succeeded in wresting back some power from the 
Bureau of Indian Affairs and renegotiating some of the more outrageous 
deals. On the other hand, MacDonald was gung-ho for American-style 
development on the reservation, and was a leader among all American In- 
dian Tribal Councils, urging them to develop in that manner. As a result, 
he probably did more to lead Indians away from traditional paths than any 
Indian before him. In 1989 MacDonald was indicted and later convicted 
on numerous counts of corruption involving kickbacks and embezzle- 
ment; perhaps he learned Dawes' lessons of "selfishness" a bit too well. 

• • • 

What was achieved by coercion in dealing with the Navajo was accom- 
plished by simple fraud with the Hopi. The instrument was the 1934 In- 
dian Reorganization (Wheeler-Howard) Act. Like the Allotment Act fifty 
years earlier, the IRA was praised as yet another great reform. Instead of 
dismembering Indian tribes, the Act promised federal aid to tribes that 
would abandon their traditional governmental structures and replace 
them with Tribal Councils elected by American-style majority rule. This 
was called "liberal" because it would bring democracy to Indians who, 
theoretically, had none before. 



The constitutions for these new democratic governments were written, 
not by the Indians, but by the United States Department of the Interior, 
which then supervised their submission to tribal referendum. A stipula- 
tion of the constitutions was that the tribal decisions would be subject to 
U.S. approval. So what was being sold as self-government was really sub- 
versive to that goal. 

Because of the massive economic aid that was promised to tribes who 
voted favorably — and because the Indians' traditional economic subsis- 
tence base and land base had been decimated — the IRA governments 
looked appealing. Also that new generation of "progressive" boarding- 
school Indians saw this government as a step toward sharing a piece of the 
American pie. Of the Indian nations that voted, 67 percent voted approval. 
One hundred seventy-two tribes adopted the new governments. 

Among the Hopi Indians, however, there was strong resistance. From 
the moment they heard of the plan, the Hopi fykmongwis were against it. 
In a letter to the BI A Commissioner, one kjkwongwi said: "As to the matter 
of forming a self-government, we already have that, handed down from 
generation to generation up to this time." When the referendum was held 
on the Hopi reservation, the ki^mongwis led a boycott, which the over- 
whelming majority of Hopis joined. 

The United States government was fully aware that among the Hopi 
Indians, the traditional expression of disapproval was refusal to partici- 
pate. A strong non-vote was really a "no" vote. Oliver LaFarge, the BIA's 
Hopi agent, explained it to his Washington superiors: 

It is alien to the Hopis to settle matters out of hand by majority vote. 
Such a vote leaves a dissatisfied minority, which makes them very 
uneasy. Their natural way of doing is to discuss among themselves 
at great length and group by group until public opinion as a whole 
has settled overwhelmingly in one direction. ... In actual practice 
this system is democratic, but it works differently from ours. Op- 
position is expressed by abstention. Those who are against some- 
thing stay away from meetings at which it is to be discussed and 
generally refuse to vote on it. 

On the day of the referendum, 519 Hopi (21 percent) voted "yes" while 
305 (12 percent) voted "no." And 1,714 Hopi (67 percent) refused to vote 
at all. LaFarge told Washington that this result "should be interpreted as 
a heavy opposition vote." But the BI A superintendent announced that as 
far as he was concerned, abstention counted as "yes." 



And so, after ten centuries of decentralized, consensual self- 
government that had sustained them very well, the Hopi joined the 
Navajo and most other American tribes in being governed from a central 
authoritative Tribal Council, empowered to execute laws and make deals 
in the name of the whole tribe under U.S. supervision. In other contexts 
we have learned to label the creation of these puppet governments as 

Whereas the }(ikjnongwis found the idea of selling, leasing, and mining 
to be repugnant, the new Tribal Council, now composed mainly of "pro- 
gressive" Mormon BI A Hopi, felt quite the opposite. According to Report 
to the Kikrnongwis, it was at the BIA suggestion that the Tribal Council 
hired an attorney from Salt Lake City, John S. Boyden, a former bishop in 
the Mormon church, to handle Hopi-corporate negotiations. In short or- 
der, Boyden made deals with Kerr-McGee, Tenneco, and a string of other 

The kjkjnongwis protested at every stage. They even filed suit in United 
States District Court in Arizona, charging that the Tribal Council had no 
authority to make leases. The suit was dismissed on the astounding 
grounds, considering the U.S. manipulations that had created the situa- 
tion, that the Hopi Tribal Council represented a sovereign state and so 
could not be sued. 

Of course, the Indian governments created under the Indian Reorgan- 
ization Act represented a loss of sovereignty. Had there been true sover- 
eignty, the tribes would have been free to choose their own forms of 
governance, without outside interference. Furthermore, the powers of 
these governments would not have been limited and controlled by the 
United States Department of the Interior, as they still are today. 

Alvin Josephy, writing in Now That the Buffalo's Gone, presents a good 
summary of the results of coercing Indian nations into acceptance of the 

Instead of enabling each tribe to choose its own form of government, 
which in many instances would have meant a revival or adaptation 
of a traditional system conforming closely to the cultural heritage of 
the people, the implementation of the Act resulted in the govern- 
ment unilaterally imposing on the Indians an unfamiliar system that 
guaranteed continued non-Indian control. . . . The |new| govern- 
ments were given no real power. The matters with which the coun- 
cils could deal were strictly circumscribed, and all their decisions and 
actions were subject to the approval of the BIA. 



Josephy points out the "Reservation Superintendent" — an employee of 
the BIA (something like a colonial governor) — "still had full control over 
the property and financial affairs of the tribe and of individual Indians, as 
well as almost every aspect of their daily lives, and could veto anything 
they or their government did." 

Josephy describes the specific case of the Oglala Sioux: 

Since the [new] constitution failed to provide true freedom, and in 
some cases threatened nonrecognized but still existing traditional 
forms of government — such as those guided by clan or spiritual 
leaders — many people boycotted the voting. Others abstained be- 
cause of confusion, fear of power-seeking fellow tribesmen, or an 
inability to get to the voting places. . . . Only 13 percent of the eli- 
gible Oglala voters accepted the IRA. Twelve percent voted against 
it. The other 75 percent failed to vote or, from the Indians* point of 
view, voted in the negative by boycotting the procedure. But a ma- 
jority of those who voted had said "yes," and a minority of 13 percent 
was thus used to foist upon the other 87 percent a form of self- 
government that white men had chosen for them. 

The results could have been foreseen. . . . Once they were in of- 
fice, those who went along with the BIA were accorded favors, hon- 
ors, and opportunities to benefit financially and build petty political 
machines of friends and relatives who would loyally serve the BIAs 
purposes . . . [and became] less accountable to the membership of 
the tribe. The latter, in turn, felt contempt for those who were prof- 
iting at their expense from the white men's government and in large 
numbers ignored them and continued to boycott the elections. . . . 

As the gap between the politicians and the grass-roots people 
widened, the latter looked increasingly to their spiritual teachers and 
other traditionalists for guidance and leadership. Though the tra- 
ditionalists and their followers, who were often the majority on a res- 
ervation, had nothing to do with the BIA or the recognized tribal 
council, their presence was a constant irritant and threat to the coun- 
cil and its officers. . . . 

Until the 1960s, the system effectively kept decision-making out 
of the Indians' hands. Policies and programs were established by 
Congress and the Department of the Interior in Washington and 
were imposed on the tribes by BIA officials and superintendents on 
the reservations. Both the policies and the programs usually applied 
to all, or many, of the reservations, and ultimately almost all of them 


The Navajo and Hopi experiences, jnd that of the Sioux, are typical of 
what has happened wherever the IRA "puppet" governments were estab- 
lished in Indian nations. As bidders of the development-oriented BIA, 
they dutifully abandon traditional economic and spiritual practice in favor 
of mining, drilling, agribusiness, and other schemes in concert with Amer- 
ican corporate interests. 

Meanwhile the frictions these non-traditional governments create, with 
both traditional leadership and the rank-and-file Indian people, result in 
devastating schisms and conflicts within tribes. They also help create con- 
flict between tribes — as with the Hopi and Navajo — where the voracious 
new Tribal Councils fight against each other for resources, just as Amer- 
ican corporations would do. 

It's a tragedy that, in circumstances like these, the American media can- 
not grasp and report on what is actually happening. They continue to call 
it a dispute between tribes, and fail to mention the colonial policies and 
puppet regimes that are actually at the root of the problem, thus feeding 
the fire. 

The paradoxes involved here were well described by the late Dan Bom- 
berry, a Cayuga-Salish Indian who founded the Seventh Generation Fund, 
an all-Indian organization that continues to struggle on behalf of the tra- 
ditional Indian viewpoint. He told me this: 

"They're calling it a Hopi-Navajo dispute, but it's a U.S. law that's forc- 
ing the removal of the people, it's Americans that are paying the bills, and 
it's a United States agency that is actually moving the people. It was the 
U.S. that shoved the Navajo toward the Hopi 120 years ago, after killing 
their animals and putting the Navajo in a concentration camp. And if you 
want to blame the Hopi Tribal Council for its land-grabbing efforts, you've 
got to realize that the Hopi Tribal Council, just like the Navajo Tribal 
Council, are not Indian institutions. They're American institutions. They 
were put there by the U.S., created in that form for the very purpose of 
doing what they're doing: exploiting the land and the minerals. 

"Those so-called Tribal Councils are really just extensions of the U.S. 
bureaucracy. Putting Indians off the land to get minerals and grazing 
rights makes perfect sense in American corporate logic. The Hopi Tribal 
Council are just being good colonial Americans. Now if you want to ask 
about Indians, you've got to turn to the old people, the traditionals, and 
the large number of young people who are joining forces with them now. 
The traditional Hopi and the traditional Navajo — especially the ones who 
live out on the land — are completely in support of each other. Leave them 
alone and they'll work everything out. I don't see how you can ignore their 
wishes and then call it an Indian problem, or an Indian solution." 




As this book goes to press (July 1991), about 75 percent of the Navajo 
and Hopi slated for relocation from the Joint Use Area have been moved. 
This leaves roughly 2,500 people (some 400 families) still refusing to go. 
These are the most militant families who can be expected to physically 
resist if efforts are made to remove them. Already there have been several 
instances where Navajo women have fired warning shots at relocation 

Of the families that have been moved, only 25 percent have received the 
benefits the government promises as incentives: $5,000 to $10,000 cash, 
new homes, and help in training for and finding some kind of livelihood 
away from the Indians traditional lands. They now face social problems 
as well as economic hardship, typical of relocated peoples forced away 
from self-sufficient lifestyles: psychological disorientation, illness, alco- 
holism and drug abuse, and suicide. 

Meanwhile, the removal policies of the U.S. Relocation Commission 
seem to have been altered in recognition of the fact that the remaining 
families will not be moved without a struggle. The government seems ea- 
ger to avoid page-one photographs of U.S. marshals dragging elderly 
people across the sand to concrete-block houses hundreds of miles away; 
that is one eventuality that might actually create interest within an oth- 
erwise passive media. The new government policy boils down to attrition. 
It continues economic sanctions against the people on the land — restrict- 
ing the number of animals, preventing new agricultural projects or new 
construction — in hopes that the old people will eventually give up or die. 

As for the official U.S. -recognized Tribal Councils, the old people have 
little faith in either the Hopi or the Navajo councils. Recent Navajo chair- 
men Peterson Zah, Peter MacDonald, and Leonard Haskie have all given 
lip service to the Big Mountain residents, but have done nothing concrete. 
There was some hope for a "land swap" between the Hopi and the Navajo, 
which would allow most of the remaining residents to stay, but Hopi 
chairmen Ivan Sydney and Vernon Masyeseva have not, in their successive 
terms, been interested in that possibility. Anyway, according to the Big 
Mountain elders, both Tribal Councils are now committed to mining. 

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., the continued nonvisibility of Indian 
issues has made legislative solutions all but impossible. Proposed legisla- 
tion by Senator Alan Cranston and Congressman Tom Bates (both of Cal- 
ifornia) to create a moratorium on forced removal of the Navajo or Hopi 
has languished badly, especially since Cranston's tenure was threatened by 



the savings and loans scandals of 1990. There now seems little chance of 
a congressional remedy. 

Legal challenges have similarly not been fruitful. The most hopeful 
case was one based on First Amendment religious-freedom rights, but this 
case, like all other Indian cases making similar arguments, received a shat- 
tering blow in 1990 with the infamous G-O Road decision of the U.S. Su- 
preme Court. The Court essentially held that Indian religions cannot be 
used as legal restraints against government actions. (This case will be de- 
scribed in greater detail in Chapter 18, concerning Native Hawaiian 

On the international front, the Hopi-Navajo issue receives much 
greater media attention and more public support than in the United States. 
The I nternational Indian Treaty Council has repeatedly brought the case 
to the attention of the United Nations Subcommittee on Human Rights 
in Geneva, as well as to the Organization of American States. The goal is 
to eventually have U.S. policy labeled as "genocidal," within the common 
definition used in international law. At this time it seems likely that both 
the UN and the OAS will condemn U.S. policy and cast world public 
opinion further against the forced removal program. However, the U.S. 
government has repeatedly ignored the findings of international courts 
and agencies when they contradict U.S. wishes, as happened repeatedly 
during the U.S. anti-Sandinista war of the Reagan years. 

Meanwhile any lingering doubts about the true motives for the forced 
removal are fast disappearing. In 1989, the Gallup Independent, a New 
Mexico newspaper, reported on a "secret" meeting between officials of the 
Peabody Coal Company and the Hopi Tribal Council, in which Peabody 
requested official approval of a new coal strip mine directly south of the 
present mines at Black Mesa. The new area would include Big Mountain 
and was claimed to contain some 300 to 500 million tons of high-quality 
coal, which would double Peabody 's production. 

The newspaper quoted conversations at the meeting in which Peabody 
urged rapid removal of the remaining residents because the company did 
"not want to become involved in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute," as if it 
were not already. According to the paper, Peabody hopes to begin mining 
in the south mesa area between 1997 and 1999. The coal's eventual desti- 
nation is Japan. 

Only two things now stand in the way of the massive mine program: 
1) the lack of sufficient groundwater in the desert to create new slurry lines 
to move the coal for processing (the existing Black Mesa mines have dan- 
gerously depleted the water table throughout the region, seriously threat- 



ening Hopi and Navajo farms and the Hopi mesa communities); and 2) 
the continued resistance of the few hundred old people and their families 
who believe they have the right to remain on their ancestral lands, to main- 
tain their traditional life, and to oppose the desecration of their holy places. 
They seem prepared to die rather than yield. 



/have discussed the corporation as a kind of machine, more perse- 
vering than the human actors within it, that operates by its own rules. 
This chapter describes the effects of the imposition of corporate structure 
upon a society that, for thousands of years, had organized its economic 
activity in a far different way. To the Aleut, Yupik, Inupiat, Athabascan, 
and other native peoples of Alaska, the corporation may prove just as fatal 
a technology as the machine gun was to Indians of the American plains 
100 years ago. 

The alien corporate form was introduced to the native populations by 
the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1973 (ANCSA). Like so 
many congressional acts before it, ANCSA was hailed as a new dawn in 
U.S. -Indian relations, claiming to offer a fair deal: full value and perma- 
nent protection of native land and culture. But just like the Allotment Act, 
the Indian Reorganization Act, and the Indian Claims Commission Act, 
ANCSA was a fraud in concept and in execution. It was created by a Con- 
gress that was essentially acting as a surrogate for U.S. oil, mineral, and 
fishing companies. In terms of effective, efficient robbery and scale of de- 
ception, ANCSA makes the Allotment Act look like a dimestore burglary. 
That it's happening right now defies the notion that Americans have 
learned from the past, or plan to behave differently in the future. That's 
the bad news. The good news is that since this situation is current, some 
of its most dire consequences may still be altered. 

2 88 



Few Americans are aware that until the Alaska Native Claims Settle- 
ment Act was passed in 1973, the native people of Alaska had legal title to 
virtually all of that state. Many lawsuits had confirmed native ownership 
on the basis of "aboriginal rights." By U.S. law, native populations main- 
tain their aboriginal ownership except under certain circumstances: 1) they 
are conquered in war, 2) a treaty agrees to cede land, or 3) a simple act of 
Congress extinguishes "aboriginal rights." 

U.S. courts have also held that natives can lose their "aboriginal rights" 
if they no longer live on or make use of lands that can then be "en- 
croached" upon by newcomers. But this is far from settled law; in each 
instance, the definition of "use" is debatable. Do subsistence societies, who 
hunt and gather through an entire ecosystem, "use" the land? Or do they 
physically have to live on the land or develop it? 

In the overwhelming majority of cases involving the United States and 
American Indians, one of the above three acts of title extinguishment has 
occurred, thereby "legalizing" the taking of Indian lands. But in several 
instances, where land was not considered valuable and no one was hun- 
gering after it, no such congressional act occurred. The case of the Western 
Shoshone Indians of the Nevada desert is one example to be described in 
the next chapter. The Alaska natives represent another. 

• • • 

The native people of Alaska have long argued that the entire assertion that 
the United States owns Alaska is based on a false assumption: The U.S. 
believes it legitimately purchased the land from Russia. The Russians 
themselves were scarcely ever present in Alaska. Except for a few groups 
of fur traders on the Aleutian Islands and along the south coast, there were 
no Russians in Alaska; surely not in the vast interior. The great majority 
of native people never met a Russian nor knew that their land was claimed 
by a foreign nation. Despite this, the United States paid $7.2 million to the 
Russians in 1867, and then announced that all Alaska was ours. As for the 
people who had lived on that land for 4,000 years, nobody asked them 

From the time of the U.S. purchase until gold was discovered at the 
turn of the century, and invading miners became a problem, most of 
the Alaska native population continued to live without threat. Following 
the gold rush, some American fishing industry developed along the coast, 
and there was logging in the southern forests. But even through the 1960s, 
the native lifestyle was not seriously threatened. Hundreds of communi- 



ties ot native people lived in small villages, hunting, trapping, fishing, liv- 
ing off the land and the sea. The Yupik and Inupiat people were 
interspersed along the northern and western coastlines; various Athabas- 
can peoples were settled in widely dispersed communities in the interior 
mountains and forests. 

One notable exception to this peaceable pattern was among the Aleut 
people in the Aleutian Islands. During the Russian reign, the Aleut had 
been forced to abandon their traditional subsistence lifestyle to capture fur 
seals for European trade. The Russians forced many of the Aleut to leave 
their homes and move northward to the Pribiloff Islands, where huge fur- 
seal rookeries were located, and still are. When the U.S. took over, rather 
than reversing this forced servitude we maintained it up until the Second 
World War. Then when the Aleutian Islands were threatened by the Jap- 
anese, the Aleut were moved to internment camps. Returning home after 
the war, the Aleut found their villages decimated. Then they found they 
had to battle animal rights groups who told them to give up the only econ- 
omy they ever knew on the bare islands that were not their traditional 
home. "They don't even want us to hunt the seals to eat," one Aleut leader 
said. "They suggest we get our meat from Chicago, with all those pesti- 
cides." Only recently have the Aleut achieved a compromise which allows 
subsistence hunting of sea mammals. 

Most of the native population first felt a major U.S. presence during 
World War II. American soldiers were stationed on new bases carved out 
of the Alaskan wilderness, which caused the development of an infra- 
structure sufficient to accommodate resource explorations. Disputes first 
arose when the government or corporations sought to designate Alaskan 
lands as U.S. National Forest (so they could be logged) or as private lands. 
But the courts consistently ruled that legal title remained with the native 
populations, because of "aboriginal rights," which frustrated development 
and exploitation. When oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, it be- 
came critical for U.S. commercial interests to "clarify" the question of na- 
tive title. Oil companies needed clear title before they could justify 
investing in drilling and pipeline construction. The idea of a negotiated 
settlement with the Indians took on new dimensions; the U.S. Congress 
got involved. 

In an unusual alliance, the oil companies were joined by many environ- 
mental groups and by the State of Alaska. All wanted to finally decide 
who owned what. The State of Alaska and the oil interests favored de- 
velopment; the environmentalists, seeing the writing on the wall, wanted 
the land preserved as national park land, or under another protected sta- 
tus. By the late 1960s, economic activity and environmentalist pressure 



upon native communities caused them to feel that they too should clarify 
the issues. Most believed that they would eventually maintain their tradi- 
tional title, at least to most of their homelands, as well as the right to carry 
on their traditional culture and economy. They were wrong. 

Details of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 

The most authoritative work on the history and implementation of the 
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was produced by the celebrated Ca- 
nadian jurist Thomas R. Berger, at the behest of the Alaska Native Review 

Published by Hill and Wang as Village Journey, the Report of the Alaska 
Native Review Commission, it concluded that the so-called negotiations to- 
ward a settlement of native land claims was less a negotiation between Na- 
tive Alaskans and the U.S. government than it was a federally mandated 

Berger reports that the negotiations did not include the participation of 
any of the leaders of the 200 Alaska native communities that were to be 
affected. Neither were tribal governments involved; in fact they were ex- 
cluded with a vengeance. There were no hearings in the communities, no 
testimonies, no votes taken among the native people to ratify or veto the 
agreement. Nor were there negotiations with the Alaska Federation of 
Natives, the one organization that the natives themselves had set up as 
their lobbying group and public representative. Instead the negotiations 
were conducted with the leadership of federally funded community pro- 
grams, such as economic development, drug and alcohol treatment, and 
family services — administrators whose salaries came from federal funds. 
After six years of this "negotiation," an agreement was announced. Be- 
cause of the dollar amounts involved and the apparent protection for large 
Indian land holdings, the agreement was hailed by Congress, the oil com- 
panies, and the environmentalists as breaking new ground. The natives' 
welfare would apparently be assured, which was a radical departure from 
previous double-dealing. 

The new agreement had several principal terms: 

1. "Aboriginal land title" was permanently extinguished. This, of course, 
was the primary purpose of the settlement — to destroy native title. 

2. Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights were also extinguished. Not to 
worry — these rights would be protected in another way, per below. 

3. The native peoples got title to 10 percent (44 million acres) of Alaska. 
This was one of the acts "liberal features": native people would get 



title and control of a huge parcel of land (10 percent, whereas they 
formerly owned 100 percent). But as it turned out, this "title" was se- 
riously qualified. 

The federal government got 60 percent (197 million acres) of Alaska. 
This land was to be divided among various departments: the National 
Park Service, Forest Service, the military, the Bureau of Land Man- 
agement, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and so on. Some of the land 
was to be preserved, and some to be developed. (The fate of each of 
these parcels has since been the subject of fierce battling and suing 
among environmentalists, corporations, and the government, espe- 
cially as to the possibility of oil drilling within the "protected" Arctic 
National Wildlife Refuge.) 

The State of Alaska got 30 percent (124 million acres). This acreage 
was earmarked for development. 

The native populations were to be compensated for the loss of 90 per- 
cent of Alaska (321 million acres) at $3.00 per acre, or a total of $962.5 
million. This figure was described as a "huge" cash settlement bene- 
fiting the natives. But . . . 

Not one dollar nor one acre of land was actually placed in the control 
of any native person. Instead, native lands were divided among twelve 
regions, each under the control of a native-owned corporation, with 
rights to mine and otherwise develop that region for a profit. The na- 
tive people received shares in this corporation. The people would get 
some money if and when the corporation made a profit, by developing 
the wilderness (as the non-natives wanted them to do). They would 
never again, as a people, own or control any land. The only control 
they had was through these corporations — institutions that operate by 
far different rules and with very different goals than the traditional 
tribal economies. 

In addition to the twelve regional corporations, each native village be- 
came a separate corporation, thus replacing the traditional govern- 
mental structure of the village. The village corporation maintained 
the surface rights to the land, but the subsurface rights were controlled 
by the regional corporation, which also owned the land around the 

Stock ownership in these new corporations was divided among the 
native populations of each Alaskan tribe, with every living member 
sharing equally. However, native people who did not live within a vil- 
lage received shares only in the regional corporations. This was the 



only stock distribution. No consideration was made for future 

10. All shares in the new corporations were to be held by natives, and are 
nontransferable to non-natives until 1991. From 1991 on, the land was 
to be up for grabs for anyone. It was the old Allotment Act ploy re- 
played half a century later. The alienation of the natives from their 
homelands and from their age-old source of survival would have been 
achieved. (By 1991 , however, the natives had fully grasped the poten- 
tial of this stipulation and successfully lobbied a change in the law. 
Now shares can only be sold with the approval of 50 percent of the 
shareholders, thus making the transfer to non-natives still possible, but 
more difficult.) 


By assigning corporations to control all of the land and all the cash set- 
tlement due the native people of Alaska, the Alaska Native Claims Set- 
tlement Act had several predictable results. First, corporate management 
robbed the traditional native leadership from both village and tribal con- 
trol of their peoples' economic future. Although the managers were them- 
selves natives — at least at first — they were very different people from the 
former tribal leaders. These managers were obliged to operate by corpo- 
rate goals, which often placed them in direct conflict with the desires of 
their own communities. The native peoples of Alaska had lived for 4,000 
years almost entirely by subsistence activity — hunting, fishing, agricul- 
ture, trapping, and trading — and wanted very much to maintain their way 
of life. The desire to protect that life was what drove them to seek a set- 
tlement ensuring that their land was preserved for future generations. 

Second, ANCSA made sure that the profit-making abilities of the 
resource-managing corporations directly determined land ownership, and 
the dollar value of the natives' awards. If the new corporate management 
failed to turn a profit, the shares of stock held by the native people would 
diminish in value (as they new have). The native stockholders would even- 
tually be tempted to sell them in order to recover at least some part of their 
award. If this should happen, the traditional native lands would be forever 
removed from the control of the people who lived on them for millennia. 

Third, the demands of profit required that the new management team 
be capable of successfully managing a complex competitive enterprise. 


2 93 

This skill is rare among native peoples, especially those who have lived in 
isolated regions free of the training and values of Western businesspeople. 
So the inexperienced native managers found they had to turn to highly 
paid non-native consultants — mostly out-of-state lawyers, accountants, 
bankers, and managers — to operate their businesses. At the time of this 
writing, more than 50 percent of the management of Native Alaskan cor- 
porations (and 50 percent of the employees) are non-native. 

In addition to their own inexperience, the new native managers had to 
deal with a dearth of start-up capital, inadequate infrastructure for busi- 
ness development, a lack of trained staff for business operations, the anti- 
native bias of the Alaska non-Indian community, and unrealistic native 
shareholder expectations. 

Fourth, to have a chance to be successful, the new corporate leadership 
had to adopt corporate values. Profit, growth, expansion, and conversion 
of natural resources to dollar-producing income were now the managers' 
driving motives. It was quickly obvious to the new class of native busi- 
nesspeople that traditional subsistence activity would not turn a profit — 
unlike cutting down forests, mining for minerals, drilling for oil, servicing 
oil development, directly selling land, and promoting high-impact tour- 
ism. So, these native managers, themselves one generation from being 
whalers and trappers, were totally absorbing corporate ideology. In an 
article called "ANCSA in Perspective," Professor Monroe Price com- 
ments: "In a sense, the gospel of capitalism has gripped the leadership of 
the regional corporations just as in another day, [the Christian] gospel was 
introduced for its educative and assimilative influence . . . The profitmak- 
ing mandate has become a powerful driving force. The [new] corporate 
executives will be those who are willing to forgo subsistence activities, to 
place a higher priority on board meetings than on salmon fishing, and to 
spend time talking to lawyers and financiers and bankers, rather than the 
people of the village." 

Fifth, the necessity to seek profit drove the regional corporations into 
fierce conflict with many of the village corporations, who were more in* 
terested in maintaining the traditional way of life. Though the villages 
were themselves set up as corporations, local control meant that the people 
with an interest in maintaining the older ways had a say in making choices. 
Most villagers did not want development, but since huge regional corpo- 
rations owned the land surrounding the village corporations and the re- 
sources underneath the villages, unprecedented fierce battles developed 
among the natives. Even the local village corporations have suffered from 
the pressure to abide by corporate laws totally alien to their experience. 
Just to fulfill the legal obligations ot corporate and tax laws in Alaska and 


the United States, the villagers were required to spend $60,000 to $80,000 
per year for accountants and lawyers. At the village level, therefore, cor- 
porate structure required that villages find means to produce income, to 
avoid going bankrupt and losing their land. 

So the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the great liberal achieve- 
ment that promised to benefit Natives as no act had done before, and to 
affirm native control over traditional native lands, and to break with the 
United States' past by paying the highest cash settlement ever, was a fraud. 
It made the formerly secure native holdings highly precarious. It directly 
disrupted traditional village economies and political structures. It in- 
stantly changed the hierarchical arrangements among the native people 
themselves. And it made available to outside corporate interests — some of 
the most economically voracious organizations in the world — a treasure 
chest of previously inaccessible resources. All of this without firing a shot. 
The corporation, a technology far more subtle than guns, did the job just 
as well and with far greater public-relations potential. 

"social engineering" 

When you look through the corporate eye, our relationship to the 
land is altered. We draw our identity as a people from our relation- 
ship to the land and to the sea. This is a spiritual relationship, a sa- 
cred relationship. It is in danger because, from a corporate 
standpoint, if we are to pursue profit and growth, and this is why 
corporations exist, we would have to . . . exploit these resources to 
achieve economic gain. This is in conflict with our traditional rela- 
tionship to the land. We were stewards, we were caretakers, and we 
had respect for the resources that sustained us. — Mary Miller, Nome 

As we all know, these corporate officers . . . may not have as much 
conviction as others on the issues of subsistence living and retention, 
which seems to be the main concern of most Natives I know. We 
shouldn't expect corporation officers to represent our interests. 
— Natalie Susufy New Stuyaho\ 

I believe that if the vast majority of Alaska Natives were given 
the opportunity to either kill or die for their land, most of them 
would do just that . . . Now, when they are coming in after the land 
they come not with soldiers, but with people carrying briefcases. If 
you shoot somebody carrying a briefcase . . . then you are just a crim- 
inal, not [making] an act of war. That means there isn't any clear way 
for the people to protect their land. — Paul Ongtoogu\ } Kotzebue 



These remarks are among thousands of similar statements that were 
published by Thomas R. Berger as part of the report of the Alaska Native 
Review Commission. 

Justice Berger's field hearings while touring Alaska's villages were the 
first to permit natives to express their points of view about ANCSA. 

Berger argues that the U.S. Congress did not hold its own field hearings 
as it never intended to permit native communities to continue their tra- 
ditional uses of the land, or to maintain their subsistence economy. The 
Congress's overriding goal was to ensure that the State of Alaska would 
develop rapidly. The rationale was that all Americans need to benefit eco- 
nomically from Alaska's rich resources. If in the end the natives had to 
change their ways, so be it. 

Berger quotes congressional staff assistant William Van Ness, who 
worked for the late Senator Henry Jackson, the chief architect of 
ANCSA. Van Ness called the act "a very radical effort at social engineer- 
ing, [which] was done on a very calculated basis." Professor Douglas Jones, 
formerly an assistant to Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, also used the term 
"social engineering." It's amazing that they were so willing, and so proud, 
to put it that way. 

In Berger's analysis he states, "Although Congress recognized the ne- 
cessity of a land base for the native subsistence economy, it nevertheless 
insisted that economic development of the land must become the principal 
means of improving social and economic conditions in village Alaska. 
Congress intended native people to go into business and to participate ac- 
tively in the economic development of Alaska." But according to Berger, 
the results have been negative: 

Native people who had little money before 1971 have little money 
today. . . . Where there was unemployment, there is still no work. 
Where unemployment has been alleviated, it is not because of 
ANCSA. . . . The imposition of a settlement of land claims that is 
based on corporate structures was an inappropriate choice, given the 
realities of native life in village Alaska. The serious changes that 
ANCSA has introduced to native life are becoming ever more ap- 
parent with the passage of time. ANCSA has affected everything: 
family relations, traditional patterns of leadership and decision 
making, customs of sharing, subsistence activities, the entire native 
way of life. The village has lost its political and social autonomy. 

[Congress declined to] take into account the strengths of the na- 
tive culture, economy and government. ANCSA is a domestic ap- 
plication of theories of economic development that had been applied 



to the Third World. . . . The central thesis is that, with large-scale 
economic development, the modern sector of the economy will ex- 
pand to incorporate persons still active in the traditional sector and, 
in this process, the traditional sector will gradually disappear. . . . 
Congress was not altogether ignorant of conditions and life in rural 
Alaska, but it did not wish to acknowledge the legitimacy of native 
ways of life. Alaska Natives were a problem to be solved, and Con- 
gress thought it knew how to solve it. . . . ANCSA is an attempt to 
re-create Main Street on the tundra. 


From the natives' point of view, one of the more subtle elements of 
ANCSA — the government's new authority to regulate hunting and fish- 
ing throughout the state — is causing some of the greatest hardships. The 
U.S. and the State of Alaska sought for decades to gain these regulations 
through the courts, but were thwarted by aboriginal rights rulings. Now 
there are no aboriginal rights. The state and federal governments decide 
who will hunt and fish and what quotas prevail. (Even on the 10 percent 
of Alaska's land that native corporations now own, the government sets 
the quotas, though only natives can hunt in those places.) 

This change in status for Alaska's lands has delivered another blow to 
traditional subsistence economic practices, since government agencies are 
far less responsive to subsistence protection than to commercial interests. 
Native fishers must suddenly compete with commercial firms in a race to 
deplete resources. Meanwhile, even subsistence hunting and trapping have 
become the target of animal protection organizations who oppose hunting 
for any purpose whatsoever. 

One native group that has been seriously affected by this change are the 
Yupik Eskimo people, who have lived a stable life in the Yukon- 
Kuskokwim delta region for the past 4,000 years. 

Shocked by the sudden impact of ANCSA and the government agen- 
cies that have begun to directly intervene in their lives, the Yupik have been 
seeking to slow down the process, arguing that their subsistence economy 
is valid on its own terms. In Does One Way of Life Have to Die So Another 
Can Live? (edited by Art Davidson), the Yupik leaders comment on the 
ways the Yupik have been excluded from the decisions that affect their 

When Russia claimed Alaska as its territory, the Yupik people were 
not involved. When the United States bought Alaska, the Yupik 



people were not involved. When large wildlife refuges were estab- 
lished on the Delta, the Yupik people were not involved. When fish 
and game regulations were formulated, the Yupik people were not 
involved. Even when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was 
passed, the Yupik people were not involved. . . . 

Please try to fathom our great desire to survive in a way somewhat 
different from yours. ... If the [U.S.] law prohibits hunting . . . the 
people will hunt even against the law. . . . Every one of us is Eskimo 
around here. We all have to eat our own native food [as opposed to 
store-bought food| and there is no question about it. We cannot pos- 
sibly go without it. 

The Yupik argue that their subsistence activity has never threatened 
wildlife populations. Yupik culture is based on a mutual respect between 
humans and animals, and the relationship has remained in balance for 
4,000 years. The problems have arisen only recently, say the Yupik, because 
the U.S. government and the State of Alaska have encouraged rampant 
commercialism, resulting in severe depletion of the salmon population 
and the death of many sea mammals as a by-product of commercial fish- 
ing procedures. The Yupik say that the habitat is being suddenly over- 
powered by newly introduced commercial hunting and fishing ethics. 

The government response to the environmental crisis in the region has 
been to create a "limited entry permit" system for fishing and hunting. 
This has made subsistence hunting and fishing nearly as expensive as com- 
mercial fishing. Meanwhile, the government tells the Yupik to "come out 
of the Stone Age" and participate in the corporate cash economy. But the 
Yupik argue, as do most other Alaska native groups, that their economic 
structure cannot be separated from every other aspect of their lives: their 
religion, their family structure, their political structure, and their value 
systems of sharing, joint effort, land use, wildlife management, even ed- 
ucation. To them, subsistence is an entire way of life. From Does One Way 
of Life Have to Die So Another Can Live?: 

The Yupik culture, like other Native American cultures, depends 
upon a subsistence resource base for which there are no alternatives. 
The relationships are really very simple. If the fish and seal and bea- 
ver and birds were to disappear, we could no longer hunt and fish. 
Our culture would die. Our way of life and our people would dis- 
appear. All precedents predict this will happen to us. . . . 

Today public policy decisions are almost invariably made on the 
assumption that we are going to be drawn into the mainstream and 
one day become like everyone else. This assumption is made . . . de- 



spite the intention of most Yupik people to continue their hunting 
and fishing way of life. 

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act created a new pattern of 
land ownership and management among native corporations, village cor- 
porations, and the state and federal governments. Ownership and rights 
of use have now been fractured into thousands of small parcels, which 
confuses the natives and makes the continuity of traditional land use im- 
practical. Yupik elder Alena Nikolas explains (from the Yupik report Does 
One Way of Life Have to Die So Another Can Live?): 

When I was growing up, we didn't know any white people, and all 
the food we had was from the land. We would go out in a canoe and 
go fishing and never waste any part of it. Everything we used for 
hunting and fishing was made by the people. The women would go 
berry-picking with their backpacks, and their buckets were made 
from bark. ... In my time there weren't such things as regulations, 
or land planning commissions. In my time people lived happily to- 
gether. Nobody would come around and say this is my land, and that 
is your land. These lands were everybody's. People weren't coming 
in and saying you do this, and you use the land for this, you use the 
river for this. These little lines and areas drawn up on the map by so 
and so — there weren't such things as those. People were happy then. 

The editors of the Yupik report agree: 

The villager's use of land cannot be broken into pieces if his way of 
life is to continue . . . the rivers flow through the various pieces of 
the ownership puzzle. The fish and game migrate from one area to 
another. The geese and ducks, and salmon and moose don't live by 
boundaries. They don't check the land office in Anchorage to see 
whose land they are on. And as the fish and game move through the 
whole land, so the hunter must be able to move through the whole 
land if he is to survive. 

William Tyson, testifying before the State Land Use Planning Com- 
mission, said this about the traditional Yupik relation to land (from the 
Yupik report): 

1 don't know of any other way of making a living besides living off 
the land and working together with my neighbors. If we see some- 
body to help, we go down and help him . . . there used to be some 
woman coming up and picking berries right outside of our house. 
My wife would open that door and say "Hey, the coffee is good, 



won't you come in and have some coffee with me?" The woman who 
picked berries right outside of my house would come into my house 
and have coffee with my wife in the house. That was before we got 

Then, after we were told that we had to have a boundary around 
our property, then anybody comes and tells us, that one is trespassing 
and I can do as I please with him. Okay. I'm not helping him no 
more, just driving him away. That is not preserving the land the way 
it should be. 


One of the most illuminating sections of Does One Way of Life Have to 
Die So Another Can Live? has to do with the Yupik's strong resistance to a 
cash economy. Referring to a University of Alaska study, the report says 
that half of the Yupik people still depend solely on subsistence. Of thirty- 
eight families interviewed, researchers found that half lived entirely by 
subsistence hunting and gathering, making their own clothes, and living 
off the land. Seventy-five percent of the families were primarily dependent 
upon subsistence. Only 15 percent of the families were solely supported 
by wages. 

Another study attempted to measure the cash value of the elements in 
the subsistence economy — animals, birds, plants — as if the people had 
been required to purchase them in a store. For food alone, the annual dol- 
lar equivalent was more than $3,000 per person, or $15,000 for a family of 
five. (Most families are actually larger than five.) 

Since the average per capita cash income among native families in the 
region is only $800 per year, it is clear that if they give up their subsistence 
economy, natives would have to find new jobs, ones that pay much higher 
wages than are now available, just to maintain their present standard of 
living. Even with the massive industrialization brought on by ANCSA, 
finding these jobs is unlikely. 

From the Yupik standpoint, even full cash equivalency earnings would 
not satisfactorily replace the subsistence economy, which offers more sub- 
tle benefits. The subsistence hunter does not have to deal with inflation, 
for example, or with the inconsistent availability of imported foods. 
Subsistence foods contain no pesticides or additives, unlike imported, 
store-bought foods, and commercially processed foods may be lower in 
nutritional value. Finally, certain foods, such as seal meat or moose, are 
impossible to buy in a store. 



Dr. Bradford Tuck, an economist who worked with the Federal-State 
Land Use Planning Commission, has commented on the quality of sub- 
sistence as opposed to commercial food: "It is important that the equating 
of dollar cost or dollar equivalent not be interpreted as representing equal 
value. The value is the same only if the satisfaction from consuming the 
pound of store meat is the same as the satisfaction derived from consum- 
ing a pound of moose meat. If the moose meat is preferred over store meat, 
then the substitute value is underestimated by using only dollar equiva- 
lent." (The above quote and the two below are from Does One Way of Life 
Have to Die So Another Can Live?) 

Margaret Cooke (Yupik) puts it more directly: . . believe me, my 
body must have seal oil. I eat it almost daily. ... I have never been in jail 
or arrested in my life, but if this bill passes [which would outlaw subsis- 
tence seal hunting] I will become a criminal. My body is used to seal oil 
and must have seal oil . . . no matter what." 

Guy Mann (Yupik) explains further: "We Eskimos use seal oil like this. 
In spring we hunt seals. Then skin dry up. When dry we put oil in seal 
skins. Then save it for winter. Then after season we fishing. The fish dry. 
Then smoked. After smoked we put dry fish into the seal skin with seal 
oil and we save it for winter. And all summer we not seal hunt. And in 
September we start seal hunt again. Then we seal hunt all winter because 
we Eskimo like to eat all kind of oil from ocean. Every time when we eat 
we take a seal oil. Please, please help us. We don't want to stop seal hunt. 
And when we eat something without seal oil, our stomachs kind of sick." 


It cannot really be doubted that a grave injustice, typical of those per- 
formed against native people for the last century and a half, is now being 
perpetrated against the Alaska natives. ANCSA was a lie from the outset, 
created by interests whose goals were to steal the natives' land and feed it 
to industrial-corporate society. The U.S. Congress was the effective actor 
in creating the problem. The corporation was and is the major weapon. 
The regulatory agencies are in place to ensure that the social engineering 
of "Main Street on the tundra" is achieved. 

Now that the cat is out of the bag, what is to be done? The native 
people's goals include reestablishing tribal control over the land, re- 
establishing tribal governments, and preserving the subsistence economy. 



Their testimonies, unheard hy Congress, hut repeated hundreds of times 
in Justice Berger's hook, are eloquent on these points: 

This act was done for our future benefit, hut it has hurt us, our chil- 
dren and grandchildren and those that are yet to be born. If we do 
not do anything about this, that is exactly our future. — Mif^e Albert, 
Tun una ^ 

Our subsistence way of life is especially important to us. Among 
other needs it is our greatest. We are desperate to keep it. — Paul 
John, Tununa\ 

Profit to non-natives means money. Profit to natives means a good 
life derived from the land and sea. . . . This land we hold in trust is 
our wealth. It is the only wealth we could possibly pass on to our 
children. . . . Without our homelands we become true paupers. 
— Antoinette Helmer, Craig 

The government we have, the tribal government, has existed and 
was a legal government when Columbus supposedly discovered 
America. . . . There has been a crying need to re-establish the tribal 
government. The government that now exists, specifically the federal 
government and the state government, is not our way of govern- 
ment. The elders are saying re-establish your tribal governments. 
Make your own laws, practice your self-determination as your ances- 
tors have practiced it. — Willie Kasayulie, A^iachak^ 

In order to reverse the problem in Alaska, many natives feel the first 
and most important step is to remove native land (10 percent of Alaska) 
from the control of corporate entities and return it to traditional tribal 
governments. If corporations maintain ownership, their land-use policy 
will directly conflict with native traditions and desires. Eventually the na- 
tives could lose even their corporate ownership — through the sale of na- 
tive shares — and wind up with neither land nor stock nor money. 
Converting corporate lands back to tribal ownership would instantly boost 
the traditional subsistence economies. 

The second most essential step would be to diminish U.S. agencies* au- 
thority over tribal lands. Natives must be given at least equal partnership 
with state and federal authorities in regulating access to and use of areas 
not owned by tribes. The idea that native resource management skills are 
not up to such a task is ridiculous, as was pointed out in previous chapters. 
Spud Williams, president of the Tanana Chiefs Association, put it this 
way: "The state needs us as much as we need them to manage fish and 
game resources. They've got to be willing to recognize tribal governments 



for effective management in rural Alaska. They cannot police this country. 
The only police force out there that can do it are the people, and we are 
probably more strict than the state because [to us] it's not 'fish and game,' 
it's food!' 

If the creators of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act had ever 
once consulted the native villagers, or had hearings out on the land, reality 
(and publicity) would have forced the U.S. Congress to see that the Amer- 
ican solution opposed the native peoples' desires to maintain their tradi- 
tional economy. Instead, Congress acted secretly and duplicitously to steal 
their land and their rights. 

Justice Berger concluded his report with this remark about the Alaska 

After visiting sixty villages, I know the depth of feeling about the 
land that exists among the Native people of rural Alaska. ... At 
every hearing witnesses talk of the corporations, shares, profits, 
sometimes even of proxies, but then, emerging from this thicket of 
corporate vocabulary, they will talk of what they consider of most 
importance to them — the land, subsistence, the future of the vil- 
lages. . . . Alaska Natives now realize that ANCSA has failed them 
and that its goals are at cross-purposes with their own. Today they 
are trying to strengthen their subsistence economy and to restore 
their tribal governments. ... It is their profound desire to be them- 
selves, to be true to their own values, that has led to the present con- 
frontation. Far from deploring their failure to become what 
strangers wish them to be, we should regard their determination to 
be themselves as a triumph of the human spirit. 

J 7 


The Case of the Western Shoshones 

/n 1979, the U.S. Indian Claims Commission announced that the 
Western Shoshone Nation in Nevada had been awarded $26,145,189 — 
one of the largest "land-claim settlements" in history. The award was 
called "compensation" for some 24 million acres of aboriginal Western 
Shoshone land in Nevada and California, which the U.S. says it "took" 
from the Indians in 1872, following 10,000 years of undisturbed Western 
Shoshone occupancy. 

The Indians have refused to accept the money. They say their land was 
never taken. They say that the assertion that the land was taken results 
from a deal between a claims attorney, whom the Indians had fired, and 
the United States, which has a strong desire to assert that the Indians no 
longer own the land. 

"Nothing happened in 1872. No land was 'taken' by the government. 
That's just a made-up date," asserts Glenn Holley, then spokesperson and 
chair of the Temoak Bands of the Western Shoshones, the officially named 
Indian representative in the claims case. "We never lost that land, we never 
left that land, and we're not selling it. In our religion it's forbidden to take 
money for land. What's really happening is that the U.S. government, 
through this Claims Commission, is stealing the land from us right now." 

For the five years preceding the "award," the Indians tried to stop the 
claim, which, they say, was fraudulently made in their name. Though they 
had fired Barker, their attorney of record, he refused to withdraw from 


the case, and the Claims Commission insisted on recognizing him. The 
Indians appealed to the president of the United States, the Court of 
Claims, and the U.S. Supreme Court, asking each to vacate or stay the 

The Shoshones insist that the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley remains in 
effect. That treaty between the United States and the Western Shoshones 
was one of "peace and friendship," which did not concede any lands to the 
United States. In fact, the point of the treaty was to confirm Indian title 
to specific territories, while also gaining the Indians' agreement for "safe 
passage 1 ' for Americans traveling through the Western Shoshone Nation 
to California. The treaty also permitted a small amount of non-native 
mining and ranching in specific areas. The boundaries of the Western 
Shoshone Nation were established as including most of what is now cen- 
tral and southern Nevada, as well as a small portion of California, includ- 
ing Death Valley. 

One of the Shoshones new attorneys, John O'Connell, told me at the 
time of the claims "settlement" that there had never been any act by the 
United States to extinguish Indian title to the land — no act of Congress; 
no assertion of eminent domain; nothing. 

"We have asked the government over and over again in court to show 
evidence of how it obtained title to the Shoshone land," said O'Connell. 
"They start groping around and can't find a damn thing. In fact, the rel- 
evant documents show that the U.S. never wanted the Nevada desert until 
recently. There's not a doubt in my mind that the Western Shoshones still 
hold legal title to most of their aboriginal territory. The great majority of 
them still live there and they don't want money for it. They love that de- 
sert. But if the Claims Commission has its way, the United States may suc- 
ceed in finally stealing the land 'legally.' " 

Just before the Claims Commission had announced its award, the West- 
ern Shoshones had offered a compromise. They had suggested that the sec- 
retary of the interior, who was then Cecil Andrus, invoke a clause of the 
Treaty of Ruby Valley by which the Indians would agree to "give up their 
wandering ways" and accept a three-million-acre reservation (about one- 
tenth of their former territory). This would have been accompanied by a 
much smaller cash settlement. The compromise was enthusiastically re- 
ceived by mid-level government officials. But to everyone's amazement, 
Andrus suddenly broke off all negotiations without a counteroffer. His 
only comment came in a letter that said, "It would not be in the best in- 
terests of the Indians." 

Two weeks later, President Carter announced that the first-choice lo- 



cation tor deploying the MX missile basing system was the "public land" 
in the Nevada desert. Also proposed for this "public land" was the U.S. 
underground nuclear testing program, as well as the nation's low-level ra- 
dioactive waste storage facility. All of these "public lands" activities fall 
squarely within the boundaries of the Treaty of Ruby Valley, and are bit- 
terly opposed by the Indians. 


That a small number of Indians would refuse a huge amount of money 
for mostly arid desert may seem crazy, particularly since the average family 
income among the Shoshones is only about $3,000 a year. "The grass is so 
sparse there," one official of the Interior Department told me, "the cows 
have to graze at forty miles per hour just to get enough to eat." 

As an occasional driver on Interstate 80, my own experience of the Ne- 
vada desert was typical of most people's — all I could see was hour after 
hour of dull, brown wasteland from Reno to Elko. Then once in 1978 I 
hiked off the highway into that desert world of juniper and sagebrush flats 
and strange, bare, folded mountains. I found that the light is alive there as 
it is nowhere else in this country except in parts of the New Mexico desert. 
The moods and colors change dramatically from hour to hour. Soon, the 
power of the land begins to dominate urbanite preconceptions. "All of this 
land, everything in it, is medicine," one old Shoshone woman told me. 

The nuances of the desert are not obscure to the Shoshones. They have 
been sustained by this "wasteland" for more than 400 generations, roam- 
ing through it in small bands. Hidden in the valleys and on ridgetops are 
large pine nut (pinyon) forests that provided the staple food as well as for- 
est cover for the deer and small animals that contributed to the Indians' 

When the whites intruded four generations ago, all of this started to 
change. But the major recent development came less than twenty years 
ago. The Bureau of Land Management took it upon itself to destroy more 
than one million acres of these pine nut groves, and killed the trees in a 
most terrifying manner by pulling them down with gigantic iron chains 
dragged between bulldozers. After clearing the pinyons, the BLM planted 
grass in hopes of attracting white ranchers. 

This destruction of the Shoshones' subsistence base forced them to seek 
support from white society. While some of the Shoshones have been able 
to continue living off the land, many have moved into settlements, appro- 



priately called "colonies," adjoining the white communities. The men 
work as miners or on ranches when work is available. The women hire 
out as domestics or waitresses. Though unemployment figures are slightly 
misleading when applied to a culture that partially sustains itself on the 
land, the U.S. government estimates unemployment among the Shoshones 
at 30 to 50 percent. Many are on welfare. Glenn Holley himself is a former 
copper miner, now partially living on disability payments due to a mining 
injury. Despite their "poverty," the Indians have refused to accept cash for 
the desert land that they say is legally theirs and that provides their cul- 
tural, economic, and spiritual identity. 


The Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946 was considered a liberal 
reform. At last a mechanism existed "to settle finally any and all legal, eq- 
uitable, and moral obligations that the U.S. might owe to the Indians." It 
sounded good, but as usual, there were some subtle wrinkles. 

First, the law provided only one method of grievance resolution: cash 
payment for lost lands. Instead of helping Indian nations to enforce their 
treaty rights, or to recover lands that had been encroached upon illegally, 
the law only allowed Indians to ask for money by asserting that their lands 
had been taken from them. Once money was awarded, Indian land title 
was permanently lost and the Indians were barred from seeking further 

Second, the law dictated that any tribal member could sue on behalf of 
the entire tribe. This claimant, or rather this claimants attorney, then be- 
came the sole representative of the tribe. As a result, those Indians who 
did not wish to file for the monetary awards, but did wish to fight for treaty 
rights or for confirmation of land titles, had no means to prevent the com- 
mission's process. 

The third and probably the worst element of the law was the stipulation 
that claims attorneys who represented Indians before the commission 
were awarded 10 percent of the settlement amount. This provision pro- 
duced a new breed of attorney, who got very rich by seeking out individual 
Indians willing to file claims. It also gave lawyers a compelling incentive 
to persuade Indian governments that the only viable course for their many 
grievances was to make cash claims. 

The Indian nations were slow to recognize the limitations of the Claims 



Commission process, or the true role of their claims attorneys. Often, In- 
dian claimants began the claims processes thinking that they might gain 
confirmation of their aboriginal land title. Though claims attorneys knew 
this was impossible, they would sometimes fail to correct their clients' er- 
roneous assumptions, at least until the process was too far along to reverse, 
and their legal fees were assured. Eventually, the Indians saw that instead 
of recovering land title, they were effectively giving up their claims for 
land, or selling lands they wanted to fight to keep. The Claims Commis- 
sion finally revealed itself as yet another effective fraud upon the Indians. 

The commission was essentially a mopping-up operation, established 
to clarify ambiguities about land ownership that still remained after a cen- 
tury of white assault. It simply asserted that the Indians had lost land that 
they often had not, and gave them money as a panacea. Usually these 
claims awards were dutifully hailed in the American press — as was the 
case with the Passamaquody and Penobscott cases in Maine — as if the U.S. 
were generously giving down-and-out Indians a gift, when actually the 
opposite was the case. 

By now, however, many Indian nations have gotten wise to the way the 
commission works. In addition to the Western Shoshones, at least twenty- 
two other Indian nations are refusing settlements made in their names by 
claims lawyers who effectively work as arms of the government. 

Most notable among the refuseniks are the Oglala and Rosebud com- 
munities of the Sioux Nation, who are refusing two settlements, one of 
$103 million and another of $40 million, for the alleged "taking" of the 
Black Hills in 1877. The Sioux say that the land was not taken and that 
they would never sell it. But the commission pushed through the settle- 
ments and twenty-seven corporations have filed for uranium mining 
rights to the Black Hills. 

Energy resources on Indian lands are at the root of many U.S. -Indian 
land struggles that are played out in the Indian Claims Commission. Sixty- 
five percent of the U.S.'s known uranium reserves are located on Indian 
reservations or on treaty lands, as is over 35 percent of the strippable coal 
and 5 percent of natural gas. Former Energy Secretary James Schlesinger 
once called Indian lands "America's energy ace-in-the-hole," but this is 
only the case while the Indians are compliant. Increasingly they are not. 

According to the late Dan Bomberry of the Seventh Generation Fund, 
"When the U.S. succeeded in forcing the Indian Reorganization Act 
(IRA) upon tribes, installing puppet governments, the ultimate U.S. aim 
was to make Indians a resource colony, like Africa was for Europe. Some- 
times the issue is coal or uranium and sometimes it's just open land for 


MX missiles and nuclear testing. The role of the Indian Claims Commis- 
sion is to get at the lands of tribes who do not have puppet governments, 
or where the traditional people are leading a fight to keep land and refuse 

"we should have listened 
to our old people^ 

The Western Shoshones* case began with a very clear grievance. Since 
191 o they had been asking the United States to stop calling the Western 
Shoshone treaty lands "U.S. public domain." Their protests were consis- 
tently ignored, and eventually they sought legal advice. By the 1930s the 
Shoshones had hired a legal advisor, Ernest Wilkinson of the Washington, 
D.C., law firm of Wilkinson, Cragen, and Barker. Wilkinson advised the 
Shoshones to join him in lobbying a new law through Congress by which 
Indians could obtain cash settlements for lost land. (This law later became 
the Indian Claims Commission Act.) The Shoshones refused to partici- 
pate. They pointed out that they never lost their lands to begin with, and 
only wished to confirm that fact. At some point after the Indian Claims 
Commission Act was passed, Wilkinson s partner, Robert W. Barker, ad- 
vised the Indians that now their only viable course was to seek a cash claim. 
A group of Shoshones, including the Temoak Bands tribal council, as it 
was then constituted, agreed to let him proceed. 

Barker filed the claim in 195 1, asserting that the Western Shoshones had 
lost not only their treaty lands, but also their aboriginal land extending into 
Death Valley, California. He put the date of loss as 1872 (only nine years 
after the Treaty of Ruby Valley), and he included in the twenty-four- 
million-acre claim some sixteen million acres that the Shoshones insist 
were not occupied by anyone but Indian bands, and that were never in 
question. But the U.S. Justice Department accepted Barker's contention. 
Since opposing attorneys agreed, the Claims Commission did not inves- 
tigate or seek other viewpoints. They awarded the Shoshones J26 million, 
based on an 1872 land value of $1.05 per acre, plus some unpaid mineral 
royalties. (An average acre of Nevada desert now brings about $250.) 
When this claim was finally paid, Wilkinson, Cragen, and Barker received 
$2.5 million. 

"We should have listened to our old people," said Raymond Yowell, a 
member of the Temoak tribal council who once supported the claim. 


"They told us that Barker was selling out our lands. It took me years to 
realize it." 

Another Shoshone elder who felt misled by Barker was Saggie Wil- 
liams of Battle Mountain: "All we wanted was for the white men to honor 
the treaty. I believed the lawyers we hired were to work for the Indians 
and to do what the Indians asked. But they didn't. They did as they pleased 
and told us that we didn't have any land. At that time we didn't talk about 
selling our land with the lawyer because we had the treaty, which settled 
the land question; it protected the lands." 

In a 1978 article in the Native Nevadan, Yowell attempted to show how 
Barker had engineered paper support from a tribe that was basically op- 
posed to what he was doing. At a 1965 mass meeting called to get tribal 
approval of a loan needed to pursue the claims, Yowell said, "A majority 
of the people present objected to the way Barker was giving up the re- 
maining rights to our lands and walked out. . . . Soon after at an Elko 
meeting about 80 percent of the people showed their opposition by walk- 
ing out. It is important that at these meetings Barker insisted that we had 
no choice as to whether to keep title to some lands or give them up for the 
claims money. The only choice was to either approve or disapprove the 
loan. And if we disapproved we would get nothing. After the majority left, 
those Indians remaining, about twenty-five or thirty, elected me and Jackie 
Woods members of the Claims Committee," which approved Barker's 
loan. (Tragically, traditional Indian people tend to express disapproval by 
boycotting meetings, walking out, and refusing to vote. This is logical 
among Indians themselves, who recognize a boycott for what it is, a neg- 
ative vote. But when dealing with whites and white legal systems, the ef- 
fect has been to leave the voting and deal-making to those who remain; 
i.e., those who want to make deals.) 

While I was working on a story about the Shoshone case for the Village 
Voice in 1979, I called attorney Barker to get his side of the story. "Ever 
since the beginning of this case," Barker said, "I have told the Indians that 
if they could find a way of getting the land back we would not stand in 
their way. We have been very patient. These delays have already cost $5.5 
million in interest. But we have a contract with the claimants and the re- 
sponsibility to proceed with the claim. We had to tell the Indians that in 
our opinion, and in the opinion of all responsible parties, Indian title had 
been extinguished by the government. Aside from seeking cash, their only 
option was to try to get Congress to pass a bill giving them land. We even 
drafted one for them in the fifties but they couldn't find a Nevada con- 
gressman to introduce it." I asked Barker what other "responsible parties" 



had agreed that Indian title had been extinguished. He named the Justice 
Department and the Indian Claims Commission itself. 

The legal records of the case cast doubt on Barker's statement that he 
did not stand in the way of Indians who wanted to assert continued title. 

In 1974 Glenn Holley and others formed the Western Shoshone Legal 
Defense and Education Association, which hired John O'Connell as at- 
torney. O'Connell filed a petition to intervene with the Claims Commis- 
sion, charging Barker with collusion with the government. Barker 
responded that the collusion charge was merely a technical point to allow 
the Shoshones to argue their case. 

But according to Glenn Holley, "Most of our people never understood 
that by filing with the Claims Commission we'd be agreeing that we lost 
our land. They thought we were just clarifying the title question. Barker 
kept saying the claim was for land we had already lost — that we weren't 
selling anything. We wanted to show we hadn't lost the land." 

Shoshone elder Clarence Blossom from Elko, Nevada, who was a sig- 
natory to the actual agreement with Barker, concurs with Glenn Holley. 
According to Blossom, "The land claim was never explained to the people. 
The old people do not even understand English. It was years later that I 
read that once you accept the money, you lose your land. The government 
pulled the wool over our eyes. If I had known what was going on, I never 
would have signed the attorney contract." Despite such sentiments, Barker 
fought hard against the Shoshones petition to intervene with the Claims 
Commission. He continued to insist that he had done nothing wrong. 

"I always tried to stay out of internal controversies in the tribe," said 
Barker, "but I had to oppose the association on the grounds that this matter 
had been exhaustively discussed back in the thirties, forties, and fifties. I 
always sought the judgment of the Shoshones as a whole as to whether or 
not to seek to restore their lands and we always discussed alternatives. Hol- 
ley 's group is just a small but vocal minority." When they lost the petition, 
O'Connell appealed to the Court of Claims, and Barker fought the appeal. 
The court agreed with Barker that the Temoak Bands had chosen long ago 
to give up the land for money and that it was "too late to upset the apple 
cart after the fruit has been so carefully collected and piled." 

By 1976, the Temoak Bands had gone through a complete revolution 
and voted to seek a stay of the claim until the land question could be con- 
sidered. Barker fought them again. The court denied the stay. Finally, the 
Temoak Bands fired Barker, and he fought the firing. The court continued 
to recognize him as attorney of record, so he eventually reaped the eco- 
nomic benefits of his thirty years of advice and counsel. 



In 1977, new Shoshone attorneys proposed the three-million-acre com- 
promise mentioned earlier, which, despite enthusiasm by many govern- 
ment people, was mysteriously rejected by Interior Secretary Cecil 
Andrus. The appeal to the Supreme Court argued that the Shoshones 
were prevented at every stage from presenting their case on land title. Like 
every court before it, the Supreme Court refused to hear arguments. 
Meanwhile, however, another Shoshone land case was working its way 
slowly through the court system. 


Mary and Carrie Dann are Shoshone sisters who live with their brother 
and with Carrie's children on a ranch outside of Crescent Valley, Nevada. 
In 1974, the Dann sisters were herding cattle near their home when a Bu- 
reau of Land Management ranger stopped them and demanded to see 
their grazing permit. The Danns replied that they didn't need a permit 
since this wasn't U.S. land, but the land of the Western Shoshone Nation. 
They were charged with trespassing. "I have grazed my cattle and horses 
on that land all of my life," Carrie Dann told me, "and my mother did 
before me and her mother before her. Our people have been on this land 
for thousands of years. We don't need a permit to graze here." 

The trespassing case went to the U.S. District Court in Reno. The Dann 
sisters convinced attorney John O'Connell to invoke their aboriginal 
rights. O'Connell challenged the Justice Department to show evidence 
demonstrating how and when the U.S. had obtained title. The U.S. could 
produce nothing. Instead, in a typical Catch-22, the U.S. referred the court 
to the Claims Commission, which found that the land had been "taken" 
in 1872. But in reality the Claims Commission had not "found" anything 
of the sort. It had merely accepted Robert Barker's assertion of title extin- 
guishment. Still, this was enough for the Reno judge, who ruled against 
the Danns, fined them $500, and ordered them off the land. 

O'Connell appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, repeating 
that there was no evidence anywhere, including in the claims case, that the 
Indians had lost title. In a tremendous victory for the Western Shoshones, 
the appeals court agreed with the Danns, and on March 15, 1978, re- 
manded the case to the lower court for trial on the land-title question. 

In the intervening year and a half, the Danns repeatedly tried to bring 
their case to trial but were met with delays by the court. "The judge never 
wanted that trial," said O'Connell. "At one point I accused the government 

3 I2 


of deliberately delaying the Dann case long enough to get the Indian 
claims check written, under the theory that once the payment was received 
Indian title would have been extinguished and the Danns would have been 
prevented from asserting it. The judge admitted on the record that he was 
'sympathetic with the government's strategy.' " 

O'Connell turned out to be right. Once the Indian Claims Commission 
announced that the Indians had been awarded $26 million, and that the 
money was placed into a trust account on their behalf (since the Indians 
would not accept the money), Judge Thompson made his decision. In 
another masterful Catch-22, Thompson ruled that the Danns did have 
title after all, based on aboriginal rights — up until 1979; but that once 
the Claims Commission Award was made in 1979, Shoshone title was 

In other words, a $26 million payment to Indians who never sought it, 
tried to stop it, and refused to accept it — payment for lands that were al- 
leged by the payer to have been "taken" in 1872, but which the courts have 
finally affirmed were never "taken" at all — is now itself being used as the 
instrument to extinguish Indian title. 


October 1979. A meeting is called in Elko, Nevada, by Glenn Holley 
and Raymond Yowell to tell the people that the government plans to put 
the MX missile on Shoshone aboriginal land. About 100 representatives 
of Shoshone communities around the state are in attendance. Also present 
are representatives of several environmental and disarmament groups, 
including SANE and Clergy and Laity Concerned. 

Holley and Yowell explain in intermittent Shoshone and English that 
the MX is the largest construction project in U.S. history and that it will 
bring some 20,000 new people onto their land. The government plans to 
pave 10,000 miles of roads through the desert. Construction will require 
3.15 billion gallons of water, endangering an already overused water table. 
Two hundred nuclear warheads will be moving around on trucks. Holley 's 
speech becomes impassioned, and reveals the depth of traditional Indians' 
abhorrence of technical intrusions onto land they regard as sacred: 

Water is life. Water is not just used for consumption; it is also used 
in spiritual ways for purification, like in sweat ceremonies. Another 
thing the MX will destroy is the natural vegetation: the herbs like 


the babeda, doza, sagebrush, chaparral, Indian tea. All these things 
will be destroyed. Not only the herbs but other medicines like the 
lizard in the south, which we use to heal the mentally sick and ar- 
thritis. There will also be electric fences, nerve gas, and security 
people all over our lands. It will affect the habitat of the eagles and 
the hawks, the rock chuck, ground squirrel, rabbit, deer, sage grouse, 
and rattlesnake. If this MX goes through, it will mean the total de- 
struction of the Shoshone people, our spiritual beliefs and our ways 
of life. The MX would destroy our relationship to the five directions: 
i) the universe — the skies, 2) the south, where the warm winds blow, 
3) the east, where the sun appears, 4) the west, where the sun sets, 
and 5) the north, where the moist air comes from and brings mois- 
ture to vegetation. Everyone who leads a spiritual life gives offerings 
to these five directions. The Great Spirit is the only one who can de- 
termine the existence of living things. The MX will totally destroy 
the whole meaning of this concept. It is in violation of all natural 
laws of the Mother Earth. 

Another man, Corbin Harney, stands up to represent the Duckwater 
community in northern Nevada: "Now we are witnessing the real reason 
why we are being forced to accept money for lands. We don't need their 
money. We need to keep these lands and protect them." Carrie Dann adds, 
"We have to be completely clear. We must not allow them to destroy 
Mother Earth. We've all been assimilated into white society but now we 
know it's destroying us. We have to get back to our ways." A resolution 
against the MX is passed unanimously. The statement expresses anger at 
the government for "assuming the land belongs to the U.S." and blames 
the MX for Interior Secretary Andrus's cutoff of negotiations. 


After the meeting I approached John O'Connell to ask him why he 
thought negotiations were canceled. Did he believe that someone might 
have laid an arm on Andrus, because of the MX? "I doubted it at first," 
he said, "but I don't know — Andrus acted awfully suddenly and against a 
lot of advice." 

I decided to try to speak to the relevant government people. First I 
called Major Art Forester at the Air Force Information Office. "Yes, the 
Air Force does know about the land dispute with the Indians, but no, there 



have been no attempts to talk with either Justice or the Department of the 
Interior about it." 

I then visited four different bureaucrats at the Department of the In- 
terior in Washington, D.C., and three at the Department of Justice, all of 
whom had been involved at various stages with the Shoshone case. None 
of them admitted to having heard the MX mentioned, although one who 
asked not to be named called it "extremely plausible" that Andrus was 
contacted, "probably by the National Security Council." 

I tried and failed to reach Andrus himself. I did reach Andrus's assis- 
tant, who informed me that the secretary "was not involved in the case and 
doesn't know much about it." So who actually made the decision? "Leo 

Krulitz was the Interior Department's chief lawyer at that time, and its 
second most powerful man. He had been described to me in several quar- 
ters as being totally devoted to "clarifying" all Indian title issues in favor 
of the U.S. I reached Krulitz on the phone and asked him why the nego- 
tiations for a reservation had been cut off. 

"Well, I wasn't that comfortable with the claim that the Indians still 
seem to possess title," he told me, "but really I didn't give the legal issues 
much thought. They were so complex that I addressed it as a policy ques- 
tion." I asked him what a "policy question" was. 

"Under no circumstances was I going to recommend that we create a 
reservation without first going to Congress. But the Indians can always do 
that themselves." 

I reminded him that the Treaty of Ruby Valley gives the Interior De- 
partment clear authority to establish a reservation, and that practically 
speaking, since the Nevada delegation is one of the more conservative in 
the country, the Indians had no real chance to go that route. 

"I saw my job," Krulitz responded, "as assessing the resource needs of 
the Shoshones, but I couldn't recommend that we establish a reservation." 
I asked him what he meant by "in the best interests of the Indians," which 
was the phrase Secretary Andrus used in his letter to the Shoshones (ac- 
tually written by Krulitz), refusing the negotiated compromise and land 
settlement. "What I meant is that this money is sitting there in the Claims 
Commission and it's a lot of money, you know. You have to realize these 
are very poor people, living in disparate communities. I just thought they 
ought to have the money." 

I thought about asking Krulitz if he'd ever discussed the matter with 
an actual Shoshone, but I already knew that he hadn't. Instead I asked his 
opinion of the Shoshone allegations that their attorney misled them into 


seeking money instead of land. "I can't get into a discussion about their 
lawyers," he said. "What about the MX missile?" "No, that came along 
much later." I knew this was not exactly true. The Andrus letter had pre- 
ceded the MX announcement by only a few weeks, but by this time I had 
lost interest in the fine points of secret MX dealings. I realized that de- 
ploying the MX is only slightly different from the prior destruction of the 
pinyon groves, and that both are just symptoms of the larger crime the 
Shoshones have been trying to broadcast since 1910. The U.S. is stealing 
Shoshone land! The bureaucrats involved are not really concerned about 
the legalities of the matter or what the Indians have to say about it. They 
are just following a set of rules, a procedural logic, begun a long time ago, 
that obscures to the world (and even to themselves) the knowledge of what 
they're actually doing. By now, it just seems right to tie up the loose ends. 

Finally, I asked Krulitz if he had any personal feelings about the in- 
justices being visited upon the Western Shoshones. He seemed shocked at 
the question. "Certainly there's been no injustice from anyone in the In- 
terior Department," he said. 

• • • 

Following my visits to the Interior Department, I had one more appoint- 
ment with an old friend who had achieved a high post in the Carter 
administration, with some involvement in Indian land cases. 

I had known this man best during the 1960s when he was one of the 
country's top environmental lawyers. He had bravely fought and won epic 
battles against corporate polluters. I expected a warm reception from him 
and I got it. We had a drink at his apartment at Watergate and then he 
took me out to dinner. We talked about the "old days" and about the new 
programs his office had instituted under Carter. Everything was very 
pleasant until I came around to the Western Shoshone case, and the fact 
that I was writing an article for the Village Voice about them and other 
Indian tribes who were refusing settlements. 

My friend became tense and angry. "These Indian cases make me so 
damned uncomfortable," he said. "I wish I didn't have to work on them 
at all. I really can't understand what these people want. Their lawyers get 
them great settlements — the Shoshones were awarded $26 million, and 
the Sioux may get $143 million for the Black Hills — and damn if they 
don't turn around and start talking about land." 

I was surprised by the bitterness of his tone. I attempted to explain that 
many of the claims lawyers acted without clear authority from the tribal 
membership. In any event, the lawyers have been oblivious to what the 

3 .6 


Indians truly want, which is to retain land rather than be paid money. The 
land is the Indians' economic, cultural, and spiritual base, I explain to my 
friend. Maintaining land is what permits them to remain Indians. The 
lawyers, however, seem always to go for the money. 

My friend stares at me. Then, he says, "I'd really like to help these 
people, Jerry, but let me tell you one goddamn thing. There's no way we're 
ever letting any of the Indians have title to those lands. If they don't take 
the money, they'll get nothing," he says. 


As this book goes to press, the Western Shoshones, like the Oglala and 
Rosebud Sioux, have not given up. They still refuse payment for their 
lands, though the interest-bearing trust account is now over J6o million. 

Led by the Dann sisters and Raymond Yowell, the Indians continue to 
graze cattle on the disputed lands, and to hunt, gather, and fish without 
paying grazing fees. 

Meanwhile, the MX missile basing system, which was killed by Con- 
gress during the Reagan years, has re-emerged under George Bush, with 
the Western Shoshone treaty lands among the possible sites. The huge new 
radioactive waste dump is still very much in the cards. And underground 
nuclear testing continues unabated in southern Nevada, despite frequent 
large demonstrations by peace activists. 

On this latter issue, there are some positive developments. Many of the 
peace groups have belatedly recognized the Indian issue and now request 
permission from the Western Shoshone Nation to demonstrate on their 
land. The Indians, in turn, have been issuing the demonstrators "safe pas- 
sage" permits and have agreed to speak at the rallies. The Western Sho- 
shone National Council has called the nuclear testing facility "an absolute 
violation of the Treaty of Ruby Valley and the laws of the United States." 

Peace activists are instructed that if they are confronted or arrested by 
U.S. government officials while on Shoshone land, they should show their 
Shoshone permits and demand to continue their activities. Furthermore, 
in case of trial, the defendants should include in their defense that they 
had legal rights to be on the land, as granted by the landowners. 

On the legal front, however, things are very bleak. A new strategy was 
hatched to sue the government for mineral fees and trespass fees from 1872 
to 1979. The logic of the argument was that since the courts recognize that 
the Shoshones did have legal title until the Claims Commission took it 



away in 1979, they were entitled to mineral and trespass fees for 109 years. 
This would amount to billions of dollars due the Shoshones; it was hoped 
that this amount was sufficient to cause the government to negotiate. But 
the court rejected this new intervention on the technical grounds that the 
specific interveners were not parties to the original claim. This suit may 
yet re-emerge. 

As for the Dann sisters, their earlier victory on the land-title issue 
turned to defeat. The Ninth Circuit Court somehow confirmed the Catch- 
22 decision that the 1979 Claims Commission award wiped out the Danns' 
aboriginal rights, along with the rights of all the Western Shoshones. The 
Supreme Court concurred. The Danns, however, remain undaunted. 
They are heading back into court with a new suit based on their hundreds 
of years of "continued use and occupancy"' prior to the authority of the 
Bureau of Land Management, which began in 1935. They hope to carve 
a hole in the earlier decisions, which might reaffirm their rights to a 
traditional livelihood and reopen a doorway for the rest of the Western 

Meanwhile, the resolve of a growing number of Western Shoshones is 
beginning to weaken. The steady pressure of the government agencies, 
combined with the wall of opposition that the Justice Department and the 
courts have put against them, have caused an already poor people to ex- 
haust their resources and their energy. Compromise solutions are 

One hope is that a new bill can be introduced in Congress to give new 
life to the 1978 plan — a reservation and some cash — that Secretary of the 
Interior Cecil Andrus had mysteriously rejected. But the Shoshones who 
would compromise are running into hostility from those who remain ad- 
amant in their opposition to giving up any land at all. The result is an 
internal split in the tribe that is becoming increasingly harsh. Given the 
continued disinterest of the media, the absence of public understanding 
and support, and a legal and court system that has bent over backward to 
give the government preposterous, absurd victories, Western Shoshone op- 
timism is on the wane. 

One of the current attorneys for the Western Shoshone National Coun- 
cil, Tom Luebben, very experienced in fighting for Indian causes, put it to 
me this way: "It is clear that one of the main strategies the government 
uses in these cases is simply to wear out the Indians over decades of strug- 
gle. The government has unlimited resources to litigate. If the Indians win 
one victory in court, the government just loads up its legal guns, adds a 
new, bigger crew of fresh lawyers, and comes back harder. It's the legal 

3 i8 


equivalent of what the cavalry did a hundred years ago. There's simply no 
interest in justice. It's hardball all the way. The government has all the time 
in the world to achieve its goals. The Indians run out of money, they get 
tired of fighting, they get old, and finally, after ten to twenty years, some- 
body says, The hell with it; let's take what we can.' It's really understand- 
able that it finally works out that way, but it's disgusting and it's wrong." 

Contemplating such an outcome, Western Shoshone educator Glenn 
Wasson said this (from Newe Sogobia: The Western Shoshone People and 

In Indian terms there is no equation in dollars for the loss of a way 
of life . . . you cannot equate dollars to lives. The redmen are the last 
people on Earth who speak on behalf of all living things. The bear, 
the deer, the sagebrush have no one else to speak for them. The an- 
imals and plants were put here by the Great Spirit before he put the 
humans here. . . . There is a story that the old people tell about the 
white man. That they are like children. They want this and that, they 
want everything they see, like it's their first time on Earth. The white 
men have all these tools but they don't know how to use them prop- 
erly. The white people try to equate national defense with human 
lives. There can never be an equation between the dollar bill and liv- 
ing things — the fish, the birds, the deer, the clean air, clean water. 
There is no way of comparing them. . . . The white people have no 
love for this land. If we human beings persist in what we are doing, 
we will become like a bad cancer on Mother Earth. If we don't stop 
ourselves, something will stop us. We are destroying everything. The 
way things are fouled by nuclear waste, nothing can live on it. After 
we have made the earth uninhabitable, will the human beings take 
this to other planets? If we take these ways of destruction to other 
planets, we will be the worst cancer in the universe. The universe 
will be programmed for destruction. We will wipe out the whole 
galaxy with our filth. 



The Case of the Native Hawaiians 

'he United States is supposed to guarantee freedom for all religious 

Jl worship but it looks li^e it doesn't apply to every religion. The Hawaiian 
religion, which thousands of us still observe, is different from Christianity or 
Judaism or Buddhism, Like Native Americans, our religion is in nature. Our 
Gods and Goddesses are alive and with us. On the Big Island of Hawaii, the 
Goddess Pele appears to us daily in all her forms. She is the volcano, the lava, 
the steam, the heat. Her family is present in the ferns, certain shrubs and native 
trees. She is the land itself We pray to her daily. Many of our chants and hula 
are for Pele and about her. We believe that some of us are descended from her. 
This is the way we have believed for thousands of years. For us it is a sacrilege 
for an energy company to come along and drill holes in Pele's body, to capture 
her steam for geothermal power, to destroy her rainforests, all so a few people 
can make money. Such things should never be allowed in sacred places. But 
when we argue that point in courts or commissions they don't take us seriously. 
We are ignored. This is not right. Its not respectful of our religion or of Native 
Hawaiian people. It is also a violation of American law protecting religious 
worship. We have to keep fighting to stop the geothermal drilling of Pele. 





That there even exists such a thing as a Native Hawaiian activist move- 
ment comes as a surprise to most Americans. Most of us have been hidden 
from real contact with Hawaii's native population, just as we have from 
American Indians. Our sole contacts with Hawaiians tend to be with the 
tourist hotels' cocktail lounge entertainers, or hula dancers. Few Ameri- 
cans know the history of native-white interactions in the islands. Fewer 
still are aware that the word aloha, so loudly trumpeted by the Hawaii 
Convention and Visitors' Bureau, is a distortion of a native concept, aloha 
aina, meaning "love, reverence, and care for the land." Nor do we realize 
that Hawaiian activists view the tourist economy of hotels, condos, and 
golf courses as a direct violation of native land use, culture and religion, 
and of aloha aina. 

In fact, today's Native Hawaiian community, which now accounts for 
less than 20 percent of the state's population, is a remnant of a great Poly- 
nesian nation that thrived on the Hawaiian Islands for 1,200 years, and 
numbered at least 300,000 people. (Some Native Hawaiians put the pop- 
ulation closer to one million.) The ancient Hawaiians lived within a so- 
phisticated system of laws and religious practices, as well as enjoyed 
economic abundance based on agriculture and fishing. It's only been dur- 
ing the last century that the Native Hawaiians' land was stolen, their eco- 
nomic base destroyed, and their culture reprocessed and sold to tourists in 
an aberrant form. 

Native Hawaiians now suffer the highest rates of unemployment, ill 
health, alcoholism, and incarceration of any racial group in the state. 
These factors have produced an anger among them that has found occa- 
sional expression in assaults against newcomers and tourists. More re- 
cently, however, the frustration has been given a creative outlet through a 
burgeoning number of activist groups that concentrate on recovering na- 
tive lands, revitalizing the native economy, and preventing the further des- 
ecration of native culture and sacred places. Two of the largest grass-roots 
groups are the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, which has been waging a long 
battle against the U.S. Navy's bombing of the sacred Kahoolawe Island, 
and Pele Defense Fund, which opposes geothermal energy development 
on the Big Island, considering it a direct humiliation of the Goddess Pele 
and the earth. 


My involvement with Native Hawaiians began on Independence Day 
1980, when my family and I were met at the Molokai airport by a prom- 


inent Native Hawaiian physician, Dr. Emmett Aluli. Director of the Mo- 
lokai Clinic, Aluli has been one of the leaders of both the Protect 
Kahoolawe Ohana and Pele Defense Fund. Accompanying Aluli was Co- 
lette Machado, a Molokai native educator, rural economic development 
worker, and leader of the grass-roots resistance to tourist development on 

After the usual welcome greeting, with leis, hugs, and kisses, Aluli and 
Machado took us on a tour of Molokai. We found that it does not have the 
overdeveloped feeling of Maui, Oahu, or Kauai. On Molokai, the majority 
population is still native and the traditional culture is alive. 

As we drove along the south shoreline, Machado explained that the ma- 
jor battles have been to forestall the huge resort hotel and condo devel- 
opments envisioned for the entire western edge of the island, "where the 
beaches have white sand. . . . That's what the haoles like: white sand, surf, 
and sun," she said. 

Indeed, since that visit, Machado has told me that Japanese investors 
have bought the enormous west-end development area and proposed six 
to eight golf courses and eight to ten major hotels, "with artificial lagoons 
and white sand, to improve on Molokai's rural character." 

When our little tour turned inland, we learned that the central high- 
lands of Molokai are devoted to one-crop agriculture. Once pineapples, 
the crop is now coffee; about 10 million coffee-bean trees grow on Molo- 
kai's plantations. "All this land was originally owned by the monarchy," 
Machado told us, but "when the U.S. overthrew the queen it also seized a 
majority of the crown lands." 

Three decades later, in 1920, the federal government passed the Ha- 
waiian Homes Commission Act, setting aside 187,000 acres of Hawaiian 
land for homesteading by Native Hawaiians. These lands were considered 
least desirable by the large sugar and pineapple planters, who got first 
choice. When statehood was granted in 1959, the lands were transferred 
to state ownership, with the proviso that they would be used for Native 
Hawaiian settlement. But it has not worked that way. "Every once in a 
while a Native Hawaiian will be awarded a homestead on Hawaiian 
Homes land," Machado said. "But over 18,000 names are on the waiting 
list, and the average wait is thirty years." Many applicants die before their 
names come up. 

Machado believes that the federal and state governments are stone- 
walling on homestead claims because "by law, Native Hawaiians have 
'superior rights' to the water. This issue alone would stop west-end tour- 
ist and resort development on Molokai," as well as similar develop- 
ments on other islands, as the Hawaiian natives would tend to use their 



land and water for traditional subsistence agriculture, especially taro 

Eventually, our tour took us back to Dr. Aluli's house. Surprising for 
its modesty, nothing like a typical American doctor's home, the house was 
little more than a three-room wooden shack, enclosed by screens, with no 
locks on the doors, about ten feet from the Maui Channel, facing Lanai. 
The house was surrounded by mango trees, from which fruit was contin- 
ually falling, as in paradise. "Molokai is probably the only place in the 
world where you don't ever feed the dogs," Aluli said. "They eat the 

Alongside the house was an open workshop area covered by a piece of 
corrugated tin. Within, a long plywood board was set upon six barrels: the 
dining room. And a few feet in front of that, along the water, was a stone 
fire pit with a large bucket of fish nearby. "We caught those about four 
hours ago," said Aluli, "right out there in the fish pond." Aluli pointed 
toward a semicircle of rocks that extended several hundred feet into the 
shallow water. 

"That fish pond was probably built 700 years ago," Machado added. 
"The entire southeastern end of Molokai is lined with these fish ponds; 
nearly fifty of them. In ancient times, they were used on a daily basis. The 
people stocked the fish ponds with baby fish, and others would swim in 
between the tiny cracks in the rocks. They'd hang out, grow big, and then 
couldn't get back out. You could use a baseball glove to catch fish in those 
ponds, the fish are so plentiful," Machado said. "It was a way of life not 
based on a money economy. But over there" — she pointed across the 
twelve-mile channel toward Maui — "the fish ponds are gone. Dredged 
and filled for resort complexes. This has also happened on Oahu and at 
Kona. Since most of the productive agricultural lands are [now] used for 
coffee, pineapple, sugar cane, golf courses, and resort development, Native 
Hawaiians have had to fight to protect our [remaining] water rights [and 
land] for the cultivation of taro. With no fish and no land, the people are 
forced to work for the hotels, or to collect welfare, or to sit around getting 
drunk and mad." 

I asked Aluli about his medical practice. Why had he eschewed a high- 
income practice on Maui or Oahu to move to Molokai? "I wanted to be a 
country doctor," he said, "and Molokai needed doctors. But also this is 
where the Hawaiian culture is still thriving. I wanted to be part of that." 

Aluli has begun an ambitious project interviewing most of the oldest 
natives on Molokai, in order to preserve their knowledge of the ancient 
society and religion. "It's like with the American Indians," he said. "The 
culture is embodied by the old people, and the young need to seek them 



out. We are placing emphasis on the kahuna, the traditional religious prac- 
titioners, because we can't separate the political struggle here, or the fight 
to regain our land and traditional economy, from the religious teachings. 
In Hawaii the land is the religion and so is the sea. Fighting for land rights 
is religious work, just as with American Indians." 

By now, the afternoon had begun to merge with the evening. Colette 
Machado came over and jokingly told Emmett to stop talking and start 
cooking the fish. Neighbors and friends started to arrive. Beer was brought 
out by the case. Emmett introduced us to an old man and woman, accom- 
panied by a young ethnomusicologist from Chicago. Aluli explained that 
the two were kapuna, elders who are also celebrated artists, among the 
islands' top singers of ancient Hawaiian songs. I was fascinated by their 
appearance. The man sported a shock of white hair and an astounding 
black coral necklace hanging around his neck, over his white polyester 
shirt. The woman was huge, about seventy-five years old, and had a way 
of rolling her head that seemed — how to put it? — ecstatic. 

After we all consumed great amounts of fish, the two ^apuna pulled 
out guitars and ukuleles and began their chants to the waves, to the moun- 
tains, to the mangoes, and threw in a fair number of rowdy songs about 
sex and fighting. The gathered crowd roared with laughter. Then sud- 
denly, we heard the sound of explosions from across the water. There was 
a full moon that night, so we could clearly see the outlines of Maui across 
the channel. My son Kai shouted, "Fireworks!" We had forgotten. It was 
the Fourth of July. The Maui resorts were putting on a fireworks show to 
celebrate American independence. How odd. Sitting with these Native 
Hawaiians around a fire, singing ancient songs, while in the distance came 
the sounds and colors of U.S. Independence Day celebrations. Was this 
America or wasn't it? 


The Hawaiian people migrated from the southern and western Pacific 
in roughly the sixth century a.d. Though there are some 132 islands in the 
Hawaiian archipelago, the eventual population of 300,000 to one million 
lived on only the eight largest: Hawaii (the Big Island), Oahu, Maui, 
Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe, which make up 99 per- 
cent of the total Hawaiian land area. 

After the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778, the population was deci- 
mated: Within fifty years it was reduced to 80,000, then to 54,000 a half- 
century after that. Cook, and the fleets that followed him, brought cholera, 

3 2 4 


mumps, influenza, and venereal diseases. And guns. All had major roles 
in population reduction, as did the forced imposition of Western economic 
and religious concepts. 

Prior to white arrival, Hawaiian society was organized into hundreds 
of small, self-sufficient, autonomous communities — little city-states. Un- 
like similar autonomous communities among American Indians, the Ha- 
waiian villages had hierarchical governments. Chiefs and priests held 
personal powers said to be given them by the myriad of gods and god- 
desses who were apparent everywhere to the Hawaiians: in the running 
waters, the hills, the volcanoes, the wind, the land, the plants, the clouds, 
the air, and the forests. An elaborate system of laws, Kapu, dictated proper 
behavior toward these chiefs and their assistants, and also among the 
people. Certain rule violations could be met with harsh punishments, in- 
cluding banishment and death. 

Though the chiefs had great ceremonial and coercive military power, 
and held certain lands for themselves, most of the land was held com- 
munally. Work was performed collectively and the output was shared. In 
these latter respects, Hawaiian society did resemble Native American so- 
cieties, except that in Hawaii the agriculture was especially rich and abun- 
dant. All of this was duly noted by Captain Cook in his diaries, and by 
subsequent arriving Westerners, who then set out to destroy the com- 
munal land-tenure system, and with it the glue of Hawaiian culture and 

I have mentioned the role of guns. Certain village chiefs grasped the 
potential of firearms and made huge investments in guns by trading pigs 
and foodstuffs. Skirmishes among Hawaiian communities, which had 
been frequent even before Cook arrived, became much larger and far 
deadlier once the arms race began. By 1810, one chief, Kamehameha I, 
who effectively used gunboats and cannons in especially bloody encoun- 
ters, became the first chief to unify all the Hawaiian islands and commu- 
nities under his rule. He then granted himself the Western title of king. 
His dynasty lasted nearly a century. 

Just as mainland white Americans had found it helpful to destroy tra- 
ditional Indian govenments, and to bring decentralized communities un- 
der one central authority, a Hawaiian king was also good for the white 
man's business. With only one customer to concentrate upon, white trad- 
ing companies could convince Kamehameha of the potential benefits to 
him of a change in traditional economic activity. In a sharp departure from 
the past, the king ordered his people to abandon their farms, and to cut 
down whole forests of sandalwood for export. 

Missionaries also made inroads by converting the king's wife, Kaahu- 


3 2 5 

manu, to Christianity. She then carried the gospel to the islands and paved 
the way for missionary schools. The missionaries began literacy programs 
but only used Christian texts, filled with Western concepts of morality and 
economics. They persuaded the people to wear clothes and adopt chastity 
and monogamy, arguing that it would halt the spread of the venereal dis- 
eases sweeping the islands since the whites arrived. The missionaries also 
gave lessons in "private property," as something more godly than com- 
munal property. Many of the increasingly corruptible chiefs took this news 
to heart. 

By the 1840s, under the rule of Kamehameha III, the missionaries and 
businessmen had sufficient control to assault the communal land system 
directly. They pressured the king to change the system, telling him that 
businesses would not enter Hawaii in full force unless they could be as- 
sured secure land title. The king finally agreed and instituted "The Great 
Mahele," arguably the most significant step ever in the alienation of the 
Native Hawaiians from their land and culture. 

"The Great Mahele" of 1848 divided the kingdom into three parts: 1.5 
million acres were set aside for the 245 chiefs and their aides; 1 million 
acres, referred to as Crown Lands, were reserved for the king and his heirs; 
the remaining 1.5 million acres were reserved for the Hawaiian govern- 
ment. All of this land could now be bought and sold. None of the land 
was held communally anymore, though for a while agriculture continued 
as before on "government land." 

The king also established a parliamentary system under a constitution, 
while retaining veto power. In 1850, the new parliament passed a law per- 
mitting Hawaiian "commoners" to claim lands on which they lived and 
worked as their individual private property. (This act was similar to the 
Allotment Act and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which con- 
verted communally held land into a saleable commodity.) Fewer than 
30,000 acres — only 1 percent of the total lands — were actually claimed by 
natives, as they didn't understand how to deal with the new bureaucracy. 
Also, the whole idea of individual ownership of small plots of land defied 
their traditional way of working communally. 

With the natives confused and in turmoil from all the changes, non- 
Hawaiians, particularly the missionaries, worked feverishly to acquire and 
expand their personal holdings. They bought and leased land whenever 
they could, intermarried with Native Hawaiians, and used fraud to get 
their way. With the land thus usurped by private ownership, traditional 
self-sustaining agriculture gave way to cash-crop plantations (mainly 
sugar cane and pineapple) for export. By the 1800s, a handful of non- 
Hawaiians owned the vast majority of lands that were once the domain 



of ordinary people; they also owned a substantial portion of the land that 
had been set aside for the Crown and the chiefs. 

With their communal land-tenure system destroyed, and without pri- 
vate plots of land, Native Hawaiians found themselves having to accept 
jobs as laborers, working for miserable wages on the same lands they used 
to own and work collectively. Some refused to do this work, so the plan- 
tation owners imported Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, and Koreans willing 
to work for low wages under terrible conditions. This threw the Native 
Hawaiians into an even more unworkable position, competing with new 
immigrant classes for the lowest rungs on the economic ladder. 

The final assault on Hawaiian sovereignty came in the late 1800s. In 
1887, white plantation owners demanded and obtained the Reciprocity 
Treaty between the Hawaiian government and the United States, which 
eliminated all tariffs on Hawaiian sugar exports. The U.S., in turn, got 
ownership of Pearl Harbor. Soon after, an army financed by plantation 
owners militarily coerced King Kalakaua to scrap the old Hawaiian con- 
stitution, and in its place establish a new one that gave voting rights only 
to large property owners (now mostly whites) and eliminated the king's 
veto power. This was called the Bayonet Constitution, which effectively 
disenfranchised Native Hawaiians from self-rule. 

One last stand was attempted in 1893 by Queen Liliuokalani. She tried 
to overrule the Bayonet Constitution and recover authority. In response the 
whites recruited an army of foreigners aided by U.S. troops, which for- 
cibly deposed Liliuokalani and declared the new Republic of Hawaii. An- 
nexation followed in 1898, at which point all Hawaiian government lands 
were ceded to the United States government. This left the Native Hawai- 
ians landless, save for the few parcels reserved for the Crown, the chiefs, 
and their aides. From start to finish, from "The Great Mahele" to annex- 
ation, the alienation of Hawaiians from their lands took fifty years. 

Since annexation, the only opportunity for Native Hawaiians to bid for 
lands they formerly owned came with the Hawaiian Homes Commission 
Act of 1920. As indicated earlier, it turned out to offer far less than it 
seemed. Though the law reserved 187,000 acres of land for homestead 
claims, heavy lobbying by the sugar, pineapple, and ranching industries 
exempted the highest quality agricultural lands. So while Native Hawai- 
ians might claim a homestead, it was only on the poorest land, very diffi- 
cult to farm. 

Nonetheless, the Hawaiians have been trying to obtain some of this 
promised land. The law states that anyone with 50 percent Hawaiian 
blood is qualified to apply. But in all this time only 2,000 families have 
secured a Hawaiian Homes ninety-nine-year lease. Eighteen thousand 



other applicants remain on the waiting list. Many have waited for decades. 
A complex set of rules has effectively thwarted successful applications. 
One rule, tor example, requires that applicants show financial means suf- 
ficient to obtain mortgages to build homes on the land. Since most appli- 
cants arc very poor — which is why they want the land — this rule alone is 
sufficient to block them. 

The net effect is that Hawaiians are virtually landless in their own 
homeland, while the state continues to promote itself as a paradise, based 
on Native Hawaiian concepts of love of the land. 


It was in this depressing context, the destruction of the Native Hawai- 
ian land base, that the direct actions in 1976, on the island of Kahoolawe, 
became a cause celebre for the native community. 

"The American Indians had the takeover of Alcatraz in the 1970s to 
catalyze their movement; we had Kahoolawe," said Dr. Emmett Aluli. 
"For the past thirty years that island, one of the most sacred places to Na- 
tive Hawaiians, has been used for bombing practice by the U.S. Navy and 
other nations of the Pacific Rim. It has been a visible, tangible slap in our 
face to use these sacred lands in this way. Beginning in 1976, we started 
fighting back and it has re-energized the entire native movement here." 

Few tourists are even aware of Kahoolawe, though it sits directly across 
an eight-mile channel from the Kihei coast of Maui. Five miles long by 
three miles wide, Kahoolawe can be seen from the crowded beaches as a 
bright red dome rising mysteriously from the ocean. Now unpopulated 
because of the military actions, Kahoolawe was first settled in the sixth or 
seventh century a.d. Attesting to its role in Hawaiian life are the recent 
discoveries of some 544 archeological sites, adze quarries, fishing shrines, 
temples, petroglyph fields, housing complexes, and burial grounds. 

Kahoolawe fell out of native hands during "The Great Mahele," and 
was operated as a ranch by a small number of whites until 194 1 . After the 
Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, the Navy requisitioned Kahoolawe for 
military exercises and practice bombings. After the war, in 1953, President 
Eisenhower issued an executive order that officially seized the island for 
the military. (The American military holds 6 percent, or 259,000 acres, of 
Hawaiian land, a greater total percentage of land holdings than in any 
other state.) 

Until very recently, Kahoolawe was the primary site of the Rimpac (Pa- 
cific Rim) Games. These were bombing exercises by the U.S., Canada, 



Australia, South Korea, France, New Zealand, and ironically, Japan, that 
involved dozens of warships, hundreds of military aircraft, and some 
20,000 personnel. The bombings and shellings would occur daily for about 
a month. During bombing practice days, you could sit on the beach at 
Kihei and believe you were watching a rerun of World War II. 

The effect on Kahoolawe has been to destroy its forest cover, lateralize 
the soil, cause terrible erosion, blow out of existence many of its historic 
and religious sites, and to drive a spike into the spirit of the Native Ha- 
waiians who revere Kahoolawe as a sacred place. 

By 1976, Aluli and other Native Hawaiians were so enraged by the 
bombing, and by the Navy's refusal to allow native access to the island, 
that they undertook a sensational act of civil disobedience. Several dozen 
Hawaiians boarded six fishing boats at Maui and headed toward Kahoo- 
lawe, intending to land a group as an "occupation force," and thereby force 
a delay in the bombing. 

Nine of the party, including Aluli, made it to shore, but the Coast 
Guard quickly rounded up seven of them. Aluli and another Hawaiian, 
Walter Ritte, managed to evade capture for two days and nights, succeed- 
ing in delaying the bombs. 

When word of the "invasion" hit the media on the larger islands, a wave 
of pride and hope swept the native communities. When Aluli and Ritte 
returned, after becoming the first natives to explore the island in nearly a 
century, they reported that they had found hundreds of ancient sites of 
temples, petroglyphs, and shrines. "The Navy had told us for years that 
there was nothing out there," Aluli told me. "They said there was nothing 
of ecological or historic importance. We never believed that, but the public 
did. We proved they were lying. Even after all their bombs, we found hun- 
dreds of signs of our ancestors. . . . Kahoolawe is a pikp to Native Ha- 
waiians, an umbilical cord, connecting us to our ancestors. The whole 
island is a kind of temple for us. For the Navy to be keeping us off the 
island, while dropping bombs on it, is sickening and sacrilegious." 

Aluli went on to form the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, and "everything 
good has followed from that," Aluli said. "We gained strength to ratchet 
up the struggle for Kahoolawe but also to begin new battles for agricul- 
tural lands, shoreline access, and to fight hotel development on lands that 
are supposed to be ours. It was our first big consciousness-raising effort. 
We learned we had the power to make something happen to recover our 
culture and our rights. We didn't have to be passive anymore." 

Aluli also filed suit in federal court. In Aluli v. Brown, Emmett Aluli 
asked that an environmental impact report and a survey of archeological 



sites be completed before any bombing resumed. The suit led to a nego- 
tiation that won the following for Native Hawaiians: 1) that the Ohana 
(which means "extended family" in Hawaiian) be permitted access to the 
island once each month for a four-day encampment, 2) that the Navy agree 
to remove live bombs and ammunition from encampment sites, 3) that 
teams of researchers be permitted to explore the whole island to map the 
religious and historical sites, and 4) that the Navy agree to stop bombing 
such sites as were discovered. In a separate action, the native community 
succeeded in having Kahoolawe placed on the National Historic Site Reg- 
ister of the U.S. government, surely the only such historic place that the 
government continued to bomb. 

The Ohana simultaneously began lobbying in Congress to block the 
bombing completely and began a campaign of letters and personal visits 
to foreign governments attempting to gain their agreement to withdraw 
from Rimpac. While the efforts in the U.S. Congress languished from dis- 
interest, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia soon ceased to participate in 
the games, leaving only Canada, South Korea, and the United States con- 
tinuing their assaults. 

July 6, 1980. Aluli has invited my family and me to a four-night Kahoo- 
lawe encampment. At 3 a.m., with about 125 other people, we board a 
huge trimaran at a Maui pier, and we are off. 

By dawn, the outlines of Kahoolawe are in view, looking like a giant 
sleeping human lying sideways. Two mountains rise where the shoulder 
and hip might be. In the early morning sun, the mountaintops are bright 

Because of the rocky shoreline, the boat sets anchor about 300 yards 
offshore. For the first time, I realize that we are all expected to swim the 
remaining distance through a rough sea, though nonswimmers can board 
a small rubber Zodiac that commutes back and forth with supplies. I get 
up my courage and make it to shore, straggling behind my kids. 

The encampment is within a low forest of kjawe trees, alongside a dry 
riverbed. Nearby stands an impressive, half-constructed ceremonial long 
house, built by previous monthly Kahoolawe access groups using materials 
brought over by boat. Construction is in the traditional manner: poles 
lashed together with bark and a floor made of small, round sea stones. One 
of the encampments major tasks is to complete the floor, which means 
that each of us is expected to lug dozens of baskets of heavy stones up the 
beach from the sea. 



Nearby we see fire pits for cooking, a kind of amphitheatre constructed 
with a stage area of palm fronds, and several large gardens where taro, 
sweet potato, and various greens had been planted and seem to be thriving. 
We express amazement that these gardens flourish, since no one is on the 
island between the monthly encampments, and a population of voracious 
feral goats will eat anything they can find. Fences around the gardens must 
be built well enough to withstand a month's worth of animal assaults. The 
Hawaiian campers have also devised an ingenious system of drip irrigation 
designed to last exactly one month, using a water supply laboriously 
brought over by boat. 

After supplies are unloaded, Aluli and Machado gather the entire group 
for prayers — Christian and Hawaiian — and to explain the rules, tasks, 
and explorations. One very strict rule is that no one is permitted out of the 
encampment area — about 300 yards square — without a guide, because of 
the live ammunition lying buried in the sand. Hiking parties are limited 
to twenty-five people at a time, with two ammo experts supplied by the 
U.S. Navy accompanying the groups, at the front and rear. 

The first hike begins before 6 a.m., with Aluli in the lead. We walk first 
through dense forest, opening into gorgeous grassy hillsides. After about 
one mile, we climb uphill out of this unbombed area and find ourselves 
on a mountainside of bare, smooth, hard red earth stretching in all direc- 
tions — the product of decades of bombing. Littered everywhere for miles 
around are spent shell casings, craters, and twisted metal remains of jeeps, 
tanks, and assault vehicles from mock invasions. 

With no trees, the heat becomes intense. Our walk is straight up the 
side of a 1,400-foot mountain. I quickly become tired, but Aluli, who 
walks barefoot, seems to actually gain energy from his excitement. 

At the first peak, we are greeted by a breathtaking view of Maui, the 
volcanoes on the Big Island, Lanai, Molokai, and Oahu in the distance. 
Aluli explains how this peak is directly aligned with the main Hawaiian 
islands and with Tahiti, 1,500 miles south. This explains, Aluli says, Ka- 
hoolawe's importance as a navigational and ceremonial center for ancient 
ocean travelers. 

From there we walk down through a saddle and find another miracu- 
lously untouched field of lush green meadows. Aluli then leads us past an 
ancient adze quarry and several ruins of ancient heiau (temples), now sur- 
rounded by rusting military equipment. The approach to the second peak 
is through another dismal terrain of scorched, destroyed lands. But near 
the top of the peak we find numerous wild tomato plants. My son Yari 
gathers several handfuls and remarks with amazement at how they could 
have survived such destruction. 


33 1 

• • • 

Back at the campsite, activities include garden work, strategy meetings, 
stone carrying, and the constant preparation of meals for 125 people. The 
meals are voluminous and fabulous. Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese 
cooks prepare traditional pig baked underground, chicken in curry and 
coconut, and massive amounts of poi. The entire group then gathers in 
the amphitheatre around a campfire for reports. We hear about the ge- 
nealogical research by which Hawaiians are attempting to prove their 50 
percent Hawaiian blood, so as to qualify for Hawaiian Homes land. We 
hear about efforts to block tourist hotels on Kauai, updates on negotiations 
with the Navy for expanded access, and about lobbying in Congress to stop 
the Kahoolawe bombing. 

Several archeologists are present at the encampment, having gained 
permission to leave the regular hiking trails. They tell the group about 
some new sites of significance. 

The director of the garden project reports on his discovery of a new 
well, which might solve the problem of a two-month break in scheduled 

There is a long discussion about the difficulties of persuading young 
Hawaiians to be more active in Ohana projects. One elder, Harry Mitchell, 
speaks about the Hawaiian inferiority complex: "Growing up Hawaiian, 
even though these were my islands, I was always called stupid by the non- 
Hawaiians, and for the first forty years of my life I believed that." I realize 
that in accepting colonialist definitions of themselves as valid, the Hawai- 
ians have much in common with Native Americans. 

For me, one of the most enlightening presentations is by a young Ha- 
waiian attorney, Mililani Trask. 

Trask is among the leaders of a wing of the Native Hawaiian move- 
ment that seeks sovereign status, similar to that of other Native Ameri- 
cans: self-government under a Native Hawaiian constitution and court 
system, control of traditional lands, right to sue in federal and state courts 
to protect trust assets. Trask's organization, Ka Lahui Hawaii, envisions a 
Native Hawaiian government that combines an elected executive, elected 
legislature, separate judiciary, and Alii nut, or traditional chiefs. The or- 
ganization, which now claims more than 7,000 members, believes that sov- 
ereign status will give the Native Hawaiians greater leverage in dealing 
with haole governments, as well as more accurately reflect the historical 
reality of Hawaiian nationhood. 

On this evening around the Kahoolawe campfire, Trask speaks on a 
more subtle political subject, the work of the Native Planters Association 


in encouraging Native Hawaiians to return to taro growing. Trask de- 
scribes the importance of taro to Hawaiian culture and identity: "Hawai- 
ian stories tell us that the first child of Waf^ea (Sky Father) and Ho' oho' 
Ku^alan was stillborn, and was placed into the ground, where it became 
taro. The second child became the first human. The Hawaiian concept of 
extended family {ohana) is derived from the word oha and refers to the 
rings of cormlets that encircle the parent plant. Taro has the same rela- 
tionship to Hawaiians that corn does to the Pueblo Indians. It's our main 
nutritional staple, but it's also our psychological staple." 

Trask points out that for a thousand years, Hawaiians were the world s 
foremost cultivators of taro, developing complex irrigation and hydraulic 
systems that are still visible on some mountainsides today. But now, Native 
Hawaiians "are losing our remaining taro fields; the land and the water 
are going to developers . . . which means survival for Hawaiian culture is 
becoming more difficult. We are trying to make a wedge into the jugger- 
naut with a new lawsuit based on Native Hawaiian walking trails, a suit 
with the possibility of holding ofF development in some places. In some 
ways, native rights come down to being able to live on the land, pick up 
your fishing pole, and walk to the beach to fish. But if you do that today, 
you might be arrested. So all of you, remember," Trask says, "when you 
head to the beach to catch some food, you are asserting ancient Hawaiian 


In the years following the Kahoolawe trip, I heard occasionally from 
Aluli. He would stop in San Francisco on his way to Washington or to 
various conferences on native rights. He seemed especially interested in 
the possibilities of running advertising on the mainland to break the po- 
litical logjam in Hawaii. "They are ignoring us in Hawaii. But if we can 
show them some impact on the mainland, and scare them back home, 
maybe we can change the atmosphere," he said. 

Aluli felt the best issue for advertising was the proposed geothermal 
development project in the East Rift Zone of Kilauea volcano on the Big 
Island. To the native population, the drilling was a violation of their reli- 
gion, a sacrilege of unprecedented proportions. It was also the most en- 
vironmentally destructive project in the history of the Big Island, since it 
would destroy several pristine rainforests and fuel an expanded tourist in- 
dustry, as well as create a brand-new heavy industrial complex to process 
ocean ores, which would cause severe toxic waste problems. 



On several visits, Aluli was accompanied by a fisherman from the Big 
Island, Palikapu Dedman, cofounder and driving force of Pele Defense 
Fund. Dedman had been attempting to block the drilling by legal means 
for years. He explained that the Goddess Pele is still very much alive to the 
native people. "My mother and grandmother raised me in Pele religion," 
Dedman told me. "We would go to the volcano and to places in the forest 
to pray, and people still do that. We hear people say the old religion is gone 
but it isn't. Some people won't admit they still practice because the mis- 
sionaries made them ashamed, but what the people say in the day is dif- 
ferent from what they do at night. Go to the volcano's edge some nights 
and you will see a hundred people saying prayers and leaving offerings for 
the Goddess. You can find the offerings in the morning. That's why this 
campaign is so important. We have to tell the Hawaiians as much as the 
whites that our religion is as good as anybody else's and should be re- 
spected. . . . The white people can't get it, that for us Pele is all the land. 
She's the volcano and everything that grows there is her. The steam and 
the vapor and lava are all parts of her body, and her family is all the forest 
plants and the life in the sea. You can't go shoving drills into her body like 
that. The old people say it will injure Pele and stop her creative force. And 
it will cause spiritual and psychological damage for the people who wor- 
ship and live with her. 

"We have been trying to argue with commissions that grant those drill- 
ing rights, and with the courts. Sometimes they don't even let us testify 
because they say nobody practices Pele religion anymore, but that's 
bullshit. Then other times they say it's not a sacred site, but that's bullshit 
too, because all of the volcano is her and is sacred, and the whole island of 
Hawaii has been made by her lava. You can't drill geothermal anywhere 
and not violate her sacred body. And I'm not even talking about what all 
that energy is going to be used for. There'll be a metals smelting plant that 
will dump toxics on the fishing grounds. There's going to be some kind of 
Cape Canaveral on another sacred site at South Point. And we're going to 
have more tourism than ever before with Hawaiians getting jobs as maids 
and busboys, instead of getting our land back like they promised. We have 
a right to maintain our traditional ways and to stop them from ruining 
this island. We're tired of getting pushed around. The courts are ignoring 
us. Let's go for it. Maybe if we can tell our story in ads on the mainland, 
someone will pay attention." 

• • • 

In June of 1987, we went back to Hawaii for the last set of discussions 
about the ad. We were met at the Kona airport by Lehua Lopez, who, with 



Dedman and Aluli, was the third member of Pele Defense Fund's lead- 
ership. As we drove around the south shore of the island, Lopez described 
her work with the Rainforest Action Network, which was now becoming 
directly involved in the anti-geothermal campaign, recognizing that the 
principal drilling sites are within some of Hawaii's last untouched 

We joined Aluli and Dedman at a quiet black-sand beach near where 
Dedman's family had lived for generations, then headed for the Kilauea 
Rift Zone to observe the latest series of eruptions, already going on for two 
weeks. The eruptions were at the 2,000-foot level of the volcano, causing 
lava to flow down across highways and houses. From our vantage point 
we could see how the lava settled into a huge gray lake seamed by boiling 
red fissures. Some of the boiling mass burst over the edges of the lake and 
poured down toward Highway 137 and the village of Kalapana; other 
flows entered natural "lava tubes" to the sea. There, the contact with the 
ocean caused great clouds of steam to rise high above the shoreline. 

Later we visited the main Kilauea caldera (crater), inactive since 1976, 
when in a spectacular show lasting several weeks (that was broadcast on 
television), it sent plumes of flame 200 feet into the sky. Now, the three- 
mile-wide crater was quiet. We decided to hike across. When we got to the 
crater floor, we entered an otherworldly scene: a soiid gray ocean of lava, 
with some areas flat and calm and other areas with swirling, silent, frozen 
whirlpools, all as if caught in a photographic frame, in mid-movement. 
The only sound we could hear was ourselves. Nothing was growing any- 
where, making the place feel dead, and yet as we walked there was the 
constant awareness that not far below our feet a vast molten sea was boiling 
and actually emerging only a few miles away. That connection to the 
mountain's hidden life brought us closer to understanding the native 

The following day began at 7 a.m. with a tour of a small rainforest, led 
by local biologist Bill Mull. "Ninety-nine percent of the flora and fauna 
found in Hawaiian rainforests are found nowhere else on Earth," said 
Mull. "To destroy them with such short-term projects as geothermal plants 
is unconscionable." 

From the rainforest we were whisked off to Kalapana Beach to see a 
traditional hula performance. Though we had seen hula performed at ho- 
tels, this was very different, in both content and performers' attitude. Le- 
hua Lopez explained to us that for Hawaiians hula was not particularly 
entertainment; it was a primary expression of Hawaiian religion. The 
woman leading the performers was Pualani Kanehele, who is not only one 
of the islands' top hula masters, but is also among the leading scholars and 



authorities of Pele religion in the state, holding teaching posts in Hawaiian 
Studies at the University of Hawaii campus in Hilo and at Maui Com- 
munity College. 

Lopez told us that during the battle against geothermal drilling, Pua- 
lani had often been called as an expert witness to testify before various 
commissions concerning the question of whether the physical land — the 
mountain, the volcano, the lava, the rainforests — could be considered "sa- 
cred." Lopez showed us the text of some of Pualani's extraordinary 

Pualani Kanehele explained to the commissioners that she came from 
the ancient tradition of Hula Kahi^p, like her grandmother and, she 
hoped, like her children. She then went on to explain and sing chants about 
the Goddess Pele's migration to the westernmost Hawaiian island, Kauai, 
and how she moved from island to island, "creating land": 

Pele is the creator. She has to be given her time in the land to create. 
She is not through creating here, and that's why we have the steam. 
As long as the steam exists, she is not through creating. And we must 
give her that time to create. We cannot just cut her off by putting a 
cap on the steam and sending it off somewhere else. Once you put a 
cap on the steam, you're putting a cap on the Hawaiian culture. 

Because we live on this island, we are very, very close to that de- 
ity. . . . We smell her every day. We see what she has done for us. And 
we know that once you put that cap on her, she's gone. She has not 
been given enough time to develop here, and drilling will cut off that 
time . . . and you will have the responsibility of cutting off that part 
of the culture and Hawaii will be dead. And for the Hawaiians who 
will be living, this may as well be New California. Because we'll all 
be haoles with the same goals as the haoles: make money. We would 
like to keep this part of our culture alive for our children. Please give 
us that chance. 

In her testimony, Kanehele spoke directly to the question of sacred 
places, explaining that the ancient hula chants contain that information. 
They describe how Pele moved from island to island until she arrived on 
the Big Island, entered the crater, and decided to stay; how her bowels 
move beneath the crust of the earth; and how she dwells everywhere, even 
down to the sea. 

As far as we are concerned, the areas established in the chants are the 
areas that belong to Pele. [One chant] about the movements of the 
water . . . it's not really the movement of the water they are talking 



about, but the movement of the deity herself. . . . All of these inti- 
mate movements of this deity are described as water, because many 
people can relate to the water. . . . We can exchange that thought of 
water to being the lava itself, that's the way the lava flows. The chant 
talks about the beauty of how the lava flows to these geographical 
areas. And so [Pele| is establishing a boundary where she flows. And 
the boundary as far as we re concerned goes all the way to Puna, 
where the geothermal drilling is under way. 

Kanehele sang other hula chants about Pele's beauty, her smoke and 
sulphur, and the moment that the lava contacts the sea. One chant de- 
scribed Pele's cautious invitation: 

You're welcome; come see my display, 
Come see the movements that I do, 

Come to view my inner parts and how I dance and how I move, 
But you are not welcome to take what is mine. 
Whatever is hot here is mine. 
Whatever is hot here is sacred. 

According to Lehua Lopez, the commission members were stunned by 
Pualani Kanehele's extraordinary testimony. But when the time came to 
vote, they gathered themselves together and did as every other court and 
commission has done: They ruled that threats to Hawaiian religious prac- 
tice were not sufficient grounds to stop geothermal drilling. 

• • • 

While we were in Hawaii, Aluli, Dedman, and Lopez took us to a potluck 
dinner party and meeting arranged with a group of environmental activ- 
ists in the beautiful community of Volcano, built literally within a rain- 
forest. The people of Volcano had successfully blocked an earlier 
geothermal drilling plan nearby, by agreeing to a compromise that moved 
the drilling about six miles southeast to Puna. Pele Defense Fund had been 
part of this original coalition, but pulled out when the compromise was 
struck: Although it saved Volcano from the noise, traffic, and fumes, the 
agreement simply moved the problem to someone else's neighborhood, 
did nothing about the eventual consequences of this massive new energy 
supply, and was utterly unresponsive to the religious issues that Pele De- 
fense Fund was raising. "Let me put it to you bluntly," Lehua Lopez had 
told us on the way to the meeting. "These people protected their own 
backyard but they did not go out on a limb to help Native Hawaiians." 
Why, then, were we going to meet them? Lehua responded logically, 



pointing out that some of them remain active supporters, that their or- 
ganizational connections were helpful for spreading the word, and that 
Pele Defense Fund needed non-Hawaiian friends. 

It was an impressive group. Present were about twenty people from the 
Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Wilderness Society, and others. After din- 
ner, Lehua made a brief speech describing the history of the battle against 
geothermal drilling, mentioning the work of many people in the room. 
She diplomatically avoided mentioning the rift with Pele Defense Fund. 
Instead, she attempted to enlist renewed support for the Fund's activities. 
Many agreed to re-engage. 

The ads were finally placed in the fall of 1988, and caused an immediate 
shock wave within Hawaii. Placed in the New Yorl{ Times and the San 
Francisco Chronicle, the headline read come to Hawaii, swim in pol- 

featured drawings of the ecological mess the geothermal project would 
cause. The ad also described the threats to the rainforest and, of course, to 
the "desecration of Pele," the native religion. In addition, the ad was 
placed in all the major papers of the State of Hawaii, but using a different 
headline: ugly, toxic, costly and sacrilegious. 

Readers were asked to send coupons and letters to the mayor of Hawaii 
County, to the governor of Hawaii, and to Senator Daniel Inouye, who 
was not only senior senator from Hawaii but also chair of the Senate Sub- 
committee on Indian Affairs. (According to a Washington Post expose that 
appeared just before the ad ran, Inouye was also the prime behind-the- 
scenes mover in support of the geothermal project.) 

The Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau was aghast, as were all 
the leading public officials who united in a chorus condemning Pele De- 
fense Fund for trying to threaten tourism. The controversy instantly ig- 
nited media interest, and a story that had languished on the back pages of 
even the Hawaii press was now front-page news. Major feature stories ap- 
peared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New 
Yorl{ Times. Network television news teams were flown to Hawaii to in- 
terview Palikapu Dedman as he fished off his black-sand beach, and to 
show Native Hawaiians making midnight offerings at the edge of the vol- 
cano. Suddenly the power dynamics of the issue began to change. 

Native Hawaiians rallied around Aluli, Dedman, and Lopez for having 
taken a stand for Hawaiian religion. Rainforest Action Network became 
the first non-Hawaiian group to make a major commitment to supporting 



geothermal resistance, and came through with mass mailings to its 30,000 
members asking them to complain to the powers-that-be in Hawaii and 
in Washington. Later the organization undertook several direct-action 
protest demonstrations at the drilling sites. 

Financial and energy experts from the mainland noticed the issue for 
the first time and voluntarily flew to the Big Island to study the situation. 
They issued new assessments that contradicted the state's claims on cost 
and feasibility, and finally stated that the project was little more than a 
boondoggle for a small number of investor groups. An enraged Senator 
Inouye issued telephone threats to Pele Defense Fund leadership, saying 
that he would not tolerate much more of their opposition. The mayor of 
Hawaii County, who had denounced Pele Defense Fund, was defeated at 
the polls in the 1989 election, the Fund's first direct political victory. Soon 
after, the state's governor showed a new willingness to open discussions 
toward a compromise solution, though a compromise on geothermal drill- 
ing has never been something Pele Defense Fund would accept. 


Most recent events concerning Native Hawaiian issues have been pos- 
itive, but there was one stunning setback that hit every native group in the 
United States seeking to use religious freedom arguments to block devel- 
opments within sacred areas. In the devastating 1989 Gasket-Orleans ("G- 
O Road") decision of the United States Supreme Court, three northern 
California Indian tribes lost in their attempt to block construction of a 
U.S. Forest Service road within the Six Rivers National Forest. The Forest 
Service contended the road was needed to support timber harvesting; the 
Indians argued the need for the road was speculative, and that it would 
run directly through a sacred place used for vision quests and ritual pu- 
rification ceremonies, and that the area was thereby protected under the 
First Amendment. 

The Supreme Court ruling came as a shock. The Forest Service's own 
expert anthropologist had agreed that the road would destroy "the very 
core" of Indian religious practice and had come out against the road. Two 
lower courts had ruled to protect the sacred sites. But the Supreme Court 
delivered what one attorney, Steven Moore, of the Native American 
Rights Fund, called a "life-threatening blow to Indian religion . . . [by per- 
mitting federal agencies to manage lands) in such a way as to unilaterally 
subordinate Indian religious values to the economic interests of timber, 
mineral, and water-power developments." Moore didn't specifically men- 



tion other native groups, but the finding was just as devastating to Native 
Hawaiian legal efforts to block geothermal drilling, as it was to the Big 
Mountain Navajo legal attempt to stop coal development or the forced re- 
moval of thousands of Indians from their ancestral lands. 

The Supreme Court held that the use of federal land is an internal de- 
cision of the government and no one else, but more important, that only 
actions that directly and intentionally coerce religious practice are prohib- 
ited. So any plaintiff has the burden of proving that the purpose of a de- 
velopment is to deliberately destroy religious freedom, which of course is 
impossible to prove. 

The court also indicated its disbelief that Indians "worshipped in na- 
ture" as they say they do, or that their manner of worship qualifies as re- 
ligious. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, for example, argued that since some 
Indians say they do not worship in this forest, doubt is thrown on the In- 
dians' religious argument, as if unanimity were the test. It is like denying 
Catholics protection for a cathedral because not all Catholics worship 

"What message does this decision send to Indian people?" attorney 
Moore asked. "That the American constitutional democracy does not re- 
spect their unique religions and cultures? . . . The effect is to strip Indians 
[and Hawaiians] of all constitutional rights for the protection of sacred 

In reaction to this decision, a new coalition was formed in 1990, includ- 
ing the National Congress of American Indians, the Association on Amer- 
ican Indian Affairs, the National American Indian Council, and the 
Native American Rights Fund, to give "teeth" to the American Indian Re- 
ligious Freedom Act of 1978. Until now, the act has been only a statement 
of policy. The goal of the coalition is to directly limit the actions of federal 
agencies on sacred lands. 

Meanwhile, Pele Defense Fund lawyers are pursuing other legal ave- 
nues. Perhaps the most promising is a suit in the Hawaii State Court that 
alleges that a land exchange some years ago, which included the present 
geothermal drilling sites at Puna, was illegal, since it involved land that 
the State was holding in trust for Native Hawaiians. 

• • • 

On other fronts, events look far more promising. With the higher media 
visibility of the geothermal issue, new support has emerged from haoles 
on the islands of Maui and Oahu, who have finally grasped the implica- 
tions of both this new energy source and the underwater cable shipment 
of electricity to their own islands. With Oahu and Maui already on the 


brink of overdevelopment, homeowners — especially new arrivals from 
the mainland — are complaining that their quality of life will be dimin- 
ished. Pele Defense Fund has welcomed this unlikely new support group. 

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has joined the Rainforest Action Network and 
Pele Defense Fund in direct-action campaigns at the drill site. The groups 
have staged nearly a half-dozen events, including one involving 1,500 
protestors, 144 of whom were arrested for trespassing on the site. All of 
these actions have received front-page news coverage in the islands. 

There have also been several new political victories on the geothermal 
issue. A federal appropriation of $15 million was blocked in the House of 
Representatives' Appropriations Committee; if this can be sustained in 
subsequent rounds, the entire project will be in danger. The governor of 
Hawaii has publicly admitted the importance of that appropriation, and 
has shown signs of looking for cover on the geothermal issue. 

As for Kahoolawe, there has been a major breakthrough. Public pres- 
sure against the bombing became sufficient to make it a major issue in the 
U.S. senatorial election of 1990. Republican candidate Patricia Saiki con- 
vinced George Bush, who claimed he had known nothing about the 
bombing, to take a new look at the issue. And though Saiki lost to Dem- 
ocrat Daniel Akaka, the federal government did finally declare a bombing 
moratorium of two years and four months. 

A three-person commission was established to hold hearings and to 
make proposals for the island's cleanup and its eventual conversion to 
other uses. One of the commission s members is Emmett Aluli. 

A major struggle remains to be fought among contenders for the is- 
land's future. Possible outcomes include: 1) its partial development for 
tourism or for parkland, 2) its return to Native Hawaiians for cultural ac- 
tivities or settlement, 3) some combination of the preceding, or 4) depend- 
ing on world events, its reversion back to being a military target. 

Another promising development is the creation of an unusual new co- 
alition of all the islands' activist environmental groups and Native Ha- 
waiian groups. Called the Aloha Aina Action Congress, the organization 
is unique in equating environmental protection and native rights. If the 
group can sustain its breadth and its commitment to native values, a sharp 
turnaround for Native Hawaiians is possible. Palikapu Dedman has in- 
dicated a higher level of optimism than ever before: "With all this new 
help we are getting, I think we can win on Kahoolawe and on geothermal 
and some other things too. There've been lots of changes already. I was 
really lonely at the beginning of all this ten years ago, but not now." 

l 9 


Thefts of native lands, imposition of alien political and economic 
structures, and assaults upon native culture and religion have been 
the main themes of the American native experience, as described in the 
preceding chapters. They are also the themes of the brief reports that fol- 
low later in this chapter and the next. 

Though assaults upon indigenous peoples occur all over the world, the 
styles of attack vary from region to region. In the United States and Can- 
ada, attacks on native cultures have "advanced" to being more "legalistic" 
than military. The objective is still the same: to break up the native com- 
munal land holdings and to separate the natives from their ancestral lands. 
"Legalistic" theft procedures are also the rule in the United States colonial 
holdings, such as Micronesia, as well as in other countries, notably Aus- 
tralia, New Zealand, Japan, and parts of Europe. But in much of South- 
east Asia, China, Tibet, and parts of Africa, South America, and Central 
America, the outside political and economic intrusions on native peoples 
are blatantly violent, as is the resistance to it. 

Perhaps the ugliest war right now is in Indonesia, where the natives of 
Irian Jaya (West Papua) are engaged in a fierce battle to stave off the de- 
struction of their rainforest homes and the forest itself. They are opposing 
an enormous Indonesian military force trying to clear them out of the way, 
so that several million Indonesians from Java can be transmigrated to new 
settlements in Irian Jaya. The goal is to turn the new settlers into a labor 
force to cut down the forest, and to develop the huge reserves of oil, copper, 
silver, tin, molybdenum, and other minerals of interest to multinational 

34 2 


corporations. Ten thousand natives have already died in the resistance and 
tens of thousands have been forced to flee their ancestral lands. 

The man in charge of the resettlement program on the natives' lands is 
Indonesia's minister of transmigration. As quoted in Lords of Poverty by 
Graham Hancock, the minister put the goals very clearly: "The different 
ethnic groups of Indonesia will in the long run disappear . . . and then 
there will be one kind of man." 

Such an attitude is usually unstated by government officials but is none- 
theless apparent from their actions, wherever on the globe native peoples 
are faced with the technological juggernaut. 

"fourth world" wars 

In Cultural Survival Quarterly, University of California at Berkeley 
Professor Bernard Nietschmann wrote that of the 120 military conflicts in 
the world (as of 1987), three-fourths involved native nations seeking to 
hold off or free themselves from larger, occupying nation -states, as is the 
case with the natives of Irian Jaya resisting the intrusions of the central 
Indonesian government. Nietschmann argues that the mass media's fail- 
ure to grasp the true nature of these wars has effectively fanned their 

Nietschmann makes a critically important distinction between nations 
and states. He argues that some 3,000 native nations are presently con- 
tained within the borders of fewer than 200 states, which assert control 
over them. Under international law, Nietschmann asserts, a nation com- 
prises peoples of common heritage, language, geography, culture, political 
system, and desire for common association. Nietschmann offers the ex- 
amples of the Karens of Burma, the Mayans of Guatemala, the Tamils of 
Sri Lanka, the Miskito of Nicaragua, the Palestinians in Israel, the Kurds 
of Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and the Soviet Union, the Oromo of Ethiopia, 
the Basques of Spain, the Sami of Scandinavia, and the Latvians, Lithu- 
anians, and Estonians of the Soviet Union, in addition to the hundreds of 
native nations in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Africa, and 
the Pacific. 

"There are two very different geopolitical mappings of the peoples and 
countries of the world," says Nietschmann. "The first is the common one 
of [the large, recognized] states and their attendant peoples, often de- 
scribed in terms of 'three worlds'; the second is a quite different one of 
more than 3,000 enduring peoples and nations . . . peoples that exist be- 
neath the imposed states. Nation peoples consider themselves to be mem- 



bcrs of distinct nations by virtue of birth and cultural heritage; they may 
not consider themselves to be citizens of some intruding state government, 
made up of other peoples from other places," as, for example, most Amer- 
ican and Canadian Indians do not. 

Nietschmann argues that fully one-third of the world's population falls 
within this definition, and that conflicts between nations and states con- 
stitute a "world war . . . hidden from most people's view because the fight- 
ing is against peoples and nations that are often not even on the map." 

Nietschmann's criticism of the media centers on its mischaracterization 
of these conflicts as "civil wars," and its misidentification of native groups: 

Pick up a newspaper, and try to find the nationality of the peoples 
shooting at each other in Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Afghanistan, In- 
donesia, Burma, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Guatemala, or in any of 
the rest of the world's wars. Nation peoples are rarely identified by 
their own names; instead they are referred to as rebels, separatists, 
extremists, dissidents, insurgents, terrorists, tribal minorities, or eth- 
nic groups. How can a people be an ethnic group in its own nation? 

The autonomous Karens and their nation were termed a "Bur- 
mese hill tribe" [by the press] whereas the Burman people — only 
one of a dozen nations in the British-created state of Burma — be- 
came the ruling regime of a mythical "Burmese people." . . . Nation 
peoples are almost always misidentified as either members of the 
very state they are fighting against (the Oromo are called "Ethiopian 
rebels") or by the propaganda terms used by the invading state, e.g., 

Almost none of the world's more than 3,000 distinct peoples are 
recognized internationally. Their existence, territories, nationalities, 
and defensive struggles are largely invisible. Instead, multinational 
state populations become internationally recognized as "peoples" 
and "nations," even though they have none of the characteristics. 

Following Nietschmann's logic, it is clear that terms such as "American 
people" are absurdities. The United States is a nation-state that gathers 
under one banner hundreds of peoples and nations, including at least two 
hundred Indian nations. Similarly, Canada, fighting to keep Quebec from 
splitting off as a separate nation, rarely acknowledges that it also has more 
than one hundred Indian nations within its borders, with separate lan- 
guages and cultures, and with desires to be considered autonomous on 
land they occupied long before there ever was a Canada. 

The situation is similar in many other states: Burma contains eleven 



separate native nations; China has fifty-five; Indonesia has three hundred; 
and the Soviet Union, more than one hundred. 

Not surprisingly, Nietschmann says, the larger nation-states invariably 
side with each other on issues involving independence movements of the 
smaller contained nations. Even within organizations such as the United 
Nations, the large countries understand their commonality of interest. To 
grant independence to the small nations would subvert the worldwide de- 
velopment scheme, as designed by institutions such as the International 
Monetary Fund and the World Bank. This development scheme presup- 
poses that a relatively few large, stable countries agree to work for "market 
economics," and to make over the world in the image of Western tech- 
nological society. Even the cases of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are not 
really exceptions to the rule, though Western countries did support their 
efforts for independence. In those cases, the anticommunism and dedica- 
tion to "market economics" of the breakaway nations assured they would 
support the dominant, Western world view. 

On the other hand, many Indian and other native nations are not in- 
terested in supporting the industrial-technological juggernaut or its life- 
style, since they see it as destructive to their own cultures and to nature. 
This ought to be clear from many of the following examples. 

• • • 

I regret that the reports that follow in this chapter and the next are far from 
complete. They leave out many important native struggles around the 
world. This is not because some struggles are less important than others; 
it's more the limitations of space, the fact that I personally know more 
about some issues than others, and that some stories are too complex to 
describe briefly. Of course all these stories are too complex to tell briefly, 
spanning as they do many centuries and many turns of events. There is 
also the problem of time lapses between when I write the reports and 
when they are published and when you read them. Nonetheless, in the 
interest of showing the commonality of native struggles all over the planet, 
I think it better to have these brief summary reports than none at all. 


Although the Pacific Ocean covers an area three times the size of the 
United States, the total land mass of its 3,000 tiny islands covers less area 



than the state of Indiana. Upon these small islands — some of them vol- 
canic and others mere coral atolls only one or two feet above sea level — 
live i.<5 million Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian peoples. Politi- 
cally and economically self-sufficient for at least 1,000 years, and in some 
places for 4,000 years, traditional activities of lagoon fishing and small- 
scale agriculture made survival extremely easy in these paradisiacal trop- 
ical and semitropical environments. 

By now, however, few Pacific islands have been left untouched by the 
heavy impact of the outside world's military and economic activities. 
As with their cousins in Hawaii, Pacific islanders face certain common 
problems: the technological countries' urgency to exploit undersea re- 
sources and feed the industrial juggernaut; the ravages and humiliations 
of tourism; and, most important, the wars and war preparations among 
the larger countries that have overrun these tiny societies like the ocean's 
tidal waves. 

The Pacific was first colonized in the sixteenth century by Magellan and 
the Spanish explorers, who were followed soon after by Germany, Eng- 
land, France, Japan, and the United States. But the most terrible scars of 
colonialism occurred during World War II, when U.S. nuclear testing in 
the Marshall Islands, combined with island-to-island combat between 
American and Japanese forces, ravaged the Gilberts, the Carolines, the 
Marianas, the Marshalls, Fiji, and others. The legacy of that fighting is still 
visible on hundreds of Pacific islands: Thousands of rusted airplanes, 
tanks, and landing barges lie on the land as testament to the brutality with 
which invader countries treated the fragile islands and the native peoples 
who lived on them. 

For Pacific islanders the war did not end in 1945; in fact the Pacific is- 
lands may be one place on Earth on which nuclear weaponry had as great 
an impact as it did on Japan. Since 1945, more than 200 nuclear test-bombs 
have been exploded in the Pacific by the United States (about 100 tests), 
France (more than 75), and England (about 10). Even today, the French 
continue to test bombs near Tahiti, despite serious destruction to the re- 
gion's coral-reef ecology, radioactive pollution of the waters and undersea 
life, and a growing antitesting protest movement among the islanders. 

The U.S. testing program, in combination with preparations for Pacific 
wars (which involve U.S. military bases throughout the western Pacific), 
has had nearly apocalyptic consequences for the native people. Whole pop- 
ulations have been forced to leave their ancestral homes, the islands have 
been absolutely destroyed, there are terrible rates of radiation sickness and 
cancer, and the traditional economic and political autonomy the natives 
enjoyed for millennia has been shattered. 




If I had to pick the worst example of recent U.S. behavior toward a native 
society, I would cite the case of Micronesia. Awarded to the U.S. in 1947 
as a United Nations "strategic trust territory," Micronesia includes the 
Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands, and the Marshall Islands — 2,000 is- 
lands spread out over three million square miles. 

The UN mandate called for the U.S. to promote the health and eco- 
nomic self-sufficiency of the inhabitants, to regulate and control the use of 
natural resources, to protect the inhabitants against loss of their lands, to 
improve transportation and education, and to "protect the rights and fun- 
damental freedoms of all elements of the population without discrimi- 
nation." The UN also mandated that within twenty-five years, the U.S. 
would give up its trust arrangement and permit self-governance under 
terms dictated by the people. 

Forty-four years later, we have not complied with that regulation. 
Given our grim history in Micronesia from the 1940s to the 1970s, no one 
should be shocked that we have now refused to give up control. 

It was in Micronesia in 1946, on Bikini Atoll, that the U.S. began its 
massive Pacific nuclear testing program. Our military persuaded the Bi- 
kini Islanders to "temporarily" move to Rongerik Atoll, so we could use 
their island for the "cause of peace." The islanders found that Rongerik 
offered very poor fishing, insufficient fruit and coconuts, and no govern- 
ment services. Within six months, starvation and malnutrition set in and 
the Bikini elders demanded to return home. But by then, nuclear explo- 
sions had made their home uninhabitable; fifty years later the island is still 
too radioactive to permit the natives to return. So a formerly self-sufficient, 
peaceful, happy society has been reduced to a myriad of welfare cases. The 
miracle is that their traditional tribal structure has somehow been main- 
tained and Bikini's traditional chiefs continue to fight for a cleanup of 
their homeland. Their pleas have thus far been met by awesome indiffer- 
ence in the military and in Congress. 

One hundred miles downwind from Bikini, on Rongelop Atoll, the pop- 
ulation was not moved during the Bikini tests. Rongelop's natives are now 
suffering higher rates of radiation sickness, cancer, and malformed and 
stillborn children than anywhere else on Earth except for Japan, and 
among the Navajo uranium miners of Arizona. Representatives from 
Rongelop have sued the U.S. for increased medical care and compensation. 
But as the U.S. does not want to admit culpability (as with suits based on 
nuclear tests in Utah and Nevada), all appeals have been stonewalled. 

In 1947, after we accepted UN trusteeship, the second major testing 



ground went into operation at Enewetok Atoll. We removed the people 
from their homes, and more than forty explosions rocked the island. 

By 1956, the entire food supply of the northern Marshall Islands — 
fruits, coconuts, and undersea life — was too radioactive to eat. The natives 
were told to eat only U.S. government issue: canned spaghetti and tuna 
from the mainland. Malnutrition, starvation, and bitterness spread rapidly 
through the islands. 

In i960, the U.S. added the people of Kwajalein Atoll to its list of dis- 
placed dependents. The Kwajalein story is particularly tragic since that la- 
goon is one of the Pacific's largest, most beautiful, and most bountifully 
inhabited by fish, crabs, and other undersea species. Once the people were 
moved, the lagoon became the "splashdown" target for the U.S. Pacific 
Missile Range. Now missiles from as far away as Vandenburg Air Force 
Base in California are targeted at this once glorious place. 

Meanwhile the Kwajaleiners have been trying for thirty years to survive 
on the tiny island of Ebbeye, with seventy acres, no lagoon for fishing, and 
no room for agriculture. By 1978, the population of Ebbeye was 7,000 — 
twelve times the population density of Washington, D.C., with compa- 
rable slum conditions and social problems. The Kwajaleiners have pro- 
tested mightily, going as far as undertaking a mass sit-in on their home 
island's airport runway. Thus far the only concessions have been some in- 
creased financial aid. 

In 1975, after completing more than 100 nuclear tests, dislocating the 
populations of a dozen islands, causing tremendous radiation contami- 
nation, and making urban-slum welfare societies out of formerly produc- 
tive self-sufficient communities, the United States began its long-overdue 
negotiations on Micronesian independence by demanding certain conces- 
sions. One demand is that Micronesia accept U.S. "protection" against for- 
eign invaders; that we be permitted to construct larger military bases for 
our nuclear weapons, B-52 bombers, and Trident nuclear submarines. Mi- 
cronesians are resisting these basing plans, feeling they will become little 
more than U.S. military dependents. 

The greatest resistance comes from the Micronesian state of Belau, 
where the U.S. wants a military base that would occupy one-third of all 
Belauan territory. Having borne the brunt of World War II, Belauans 
want no military presence, and especially no nuclear presence. They voted 
90 percent for an anti-nuclear constitution, submitted for referendum in 
1979. The U.S. rejected their vote and demanded another referendum, 
which had the same outcome. That was also rejected. 

A few years later, the president of Belau, a leader of the anti-nuclear 
sentiment, was mysteriously assassinated and replaced with a pro-nuclear 



president. Public opinion on Belau holds that it was a CIA job — I think 
so too. 

The situation today is at a standoff, though U.S. strategy has changed. 
We are now going in for bribery in a big way, promising massive financial 
aid, road-building, U.S.-style housing, government jobs, economic devel- 
opment contracts, and better medical facilities. We are also counting on 
attrition. As time passes and one generation gives way to the next, and as 
the power of traditional chiefs begins to wane, and as the continued pres- 
ence of U.S. military personnel erodes the culture, there are signs that Be- 
lauan resistance is declining. 

On the other hand, Belau has received strong moral support from the 
new Nuclear Free Pacific Movement among other island nations. It in- 
cludes Vanuatu, Kiribati, the northern Marianas, the Solomons, the Mar- 
shall, and New Zealand, as well as the native movement in Hawaii. All 
of these have joined an informal alliance that meets annually and attempts 
to chart a unified course against the intrusions of the major world powers. 
In response, the Reagan administration issued a kind of Pacific Monroe 
Doctrine, stating that we have the right to intervene in the affairs of any 
Pacific island republic that makes deals of which we do not approve. Pres- 
ident Bush supports that doctrine. 

Australia and New Zealand 

Aboriginal populations in both Australia and New Zealand are experi- 
encing a rebirth of activism born out of a common resistance to mining 
activities on native lands. 

New Zealand's Maori are in a better position than the Aborigines of 
Australia because they represent 10 percent of the country's population, 
are well organized, and have treaties guaranteeing certain lands and 
rights. The Maori also have a tradition of resistance, having fought mili- 
tarily against the invading Europeans in the 1800s. 

In some ways, the Maori experience is similar to that of American In- 
dians. Much of their land loss resulted from "legal" subterfuge, designed 
to alienate them from their communal land base. The minister of justice 
of New Zealand in 1872 admitted this was the motive of the Native Lands 
Act, written to "destroy the principle of communalism upon which their 
social system was based, and which stood as a barrier in the way of all 
attempts to amalgamate the Maori into our social system." From 1890 to 
1920, Maori land holdings were diminished from n million to 2 million 

Maori activism reawakened in the 1960s. According to Julian Burgers 



Report from the Frontier, the Maori "feared mining activities would de- 
stroy the fishing grounds, disrupt lifestyles, interfere with recreation, and 
desecrate sacred sites. The objections were founded on the idea that min- 
ing companies did not share the same spiritual attitudes to land and water 
as the Maori, rather than any material pre-occupation about royalties." 
Having forged links with other progressive movements in New Zealand, 
such as the anti-nuclear and labor movements, the Maori political and eco- 
nomic situation is now improving. 

• • • 

Australia's Aborigines are only 200,000 in a country of 10 million people. 
Horribly brutalized, confined to the least desirable parts of the Australian 
desert (in miserable reservations first created by missionaries), the Aborig- 
ines' status is grim. A large percent live as "fringe dwellers" on the edges 
of cities. There they suffer poor medical care, a high death rate, malnu- 
trition, unemployment, and despair. 

However, discoveries of bauxite, manganese, oil, natural gas, and ura- 
nium on Aborigine lands, once considered wastelands by whites, have 
given the natives new leverage. For religious reasons, they are deeply op- 
posed to any mining; the Aborigines say mining activity disrupts their an- 
cient "song-lines" by which they reckon their spiritual connection to the 
land and the cosmos. 

Recently they have gained support from anti-nuclear groups, and also 
from liberal whites who point to the disgracefully poor lease arrangements 
by which Australian mining interests have exploited the native lands. 
From all this, the Aborigine leadership has gained strength, even under- 
taking civil disobedience activities completely out of character with their 
historical passivity. 


In 1980, the Japanese government declared to the United Nations that 
"there are no minorities in Japan," thereby exempting itself from UN rules 
about freedom of language and religion for minorities. Soon after that 
statement, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone stated that the reason the 
education level in the U.S. is low is because minorities such as blacks and 
Hispanics drag it down. This comment caused an uproar in the United 
States, resulting in an apology from Nakasone. It also created outrage 
from Japan's minority populations, whose existence the government 
doesn't acknowledge. 

Minorities in Japan include Okinawans, and immigrant Filipinos, 



Chinese, and Koreans, all of whom are met with significant discrimina- 
tion. There are also two nonimmigrant minorities who fare little better 
than the immigrants. One is the "untouchable caste," the Buraku people. 
Little known outside Japan, they represent about 3 percent of the popu- 
lation. Discrimination against the Burakumin dates back to the Samurai 
period, when they were employed as meat-cutters and leather workers in 
a society with religious strictures against handling animal flesh. Despite 
new anti-discrimination laws, the Burakumin still cannot find decent 
housing outside their own ghettos in Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo, and they 
have difficulty gaining access to higher education, or employment, or mar- 
riage outside their caste. 

More to our purposes, however, is the situation of the Ainu, the original 
native population of the Japanese islands. The Ainu now number about 
50,000 and are concentrated on the northern island of Hokkaido. Their 
culture and story closely resemble that of some American Indian societies: 
They have a totem-oriented religion, in which bears, owls, and other an- 
imals are considered sacred; lineage is reckoned matrilineally; and their 
traditional economy is based on hunting, gathering, and fishing from sta- 
ble villages. They lived in that manner for some 4,000 years before the in- 
vaders arrived in great numbers from Central Asia 2,000 years ago. By the 
seventeenth century, a series of bloody wars forced the Ainu to abandon 
all of Japan except Hokkaido in the north, where they were able to main- 
tain their traditional life for several hundred more years, until the 1899 
Law for the Protection of the Former Aborigines of Hokkaido. Like other 
laws with similarly friendly titles in the United States, Canada, Australia, 
and other places, it was anything but protective. Passed without any input 
from Ainu, the law outlawed traditional Ainu hunting, salmon fishing, 
and even the gathering of wood. It offered the Ainu individually allotted 
homesteads — another assault on communal land ownership — and de- 
manded that the Ainu become farmers. If allotted land was not used for 
farming, it was confiscated. 

Since the law effectively destroyed the Ainu economy, as well as their 
culture and religion, few Ainu applied for land. Instead, they dispersed, 
leading them to social isolation and discrimination that continue to this 
day. "Ainu are discriminated against on sight," says militant Ainu woman 
Mieko Chikkap. "We are technically citizens of Japan, but we have no 
rights at all." 

Part of a new breed of young Ainu determined to recover cultural 
rights and land, as well as demand the respect of the majority population, 
Chikkap made a major political splash in 1988 when she won a lawsuit 
against a famous Japanese anthropologist and his publisher. The suit ar- 


gued that photos of dug-up Ainu graves, Ainu artifacts, and Ainu people, 
including Chikkap herself, were published without permission. "They 
would never have dug up the graves of any other Japanese and taken pic- 
tures of them," Chikkap told me when I met her in 1987. She was espe- 
cially furious that the author had called Ainu "a dead culture," thus 
characterizing present-day Ainu as little more than artifacts or curiosities. 
"By our actual presence, and our cultural practices, and our ceremonies, 
dancing, and weaving, it is obvious that we are not dead. They thought 
they could get away with showing my picture in that context without even 
asking because I am only an Ainu, and Ainu have no power in Japan." 
Chikkap gained the support of a feminist attorney who worked for low 
fees and succeeded in achieving an extraordinary settlement suggested by 
Chikkap: A cash settlement went to fund new Ainu educational and cul- 
tural activities, and the publisher issued a formal written apology to the 
Ainu people, an extraordinary gesture in Japan. 

Chikkap's victory was front-page news in Hokkaido and elsewhere in 
Japan. It rallied the Ainu for renewed efforts to regain their rights. They 
are now considering lawsuits demanding that Japan deliver the promised 
homestead lands to those Ainu families that did accept the 1899 offer, but 
who had their lands confiscated nonetheless. They are also fighting a pro- 
posed new dam on Hokkaido, which would submerge some lands now 
owned by Ainu farmers, and at the same time they are trying to get the 
government's ban on Ainu salmon fishing lifted. 

To overcome entrenched discrimination against them, the Ainu are in- 
sisting on the establishment of secondary education courses in Ainu lan- 
guage and culture, and university courses in Ainu Studies. 

Under the auspices of the World Council of Churches, a new coalition 
has been formed combining the struggles of the Ainu with the Buraku- 
min, the Okinawans, and the immigrant Koreans, Filipinos, and Chinese. 

Indonesia and the Philippines 

Indonesia and the Philippines are excellent examples of Bernard Nietsch- 
mann's thesis: Both countries are amalgams of literally hundreds of sep- 
arate indigenous nations, speaking hundreds of languages, spread out 
over thousands of islands, having no reason to be lumped together in fed- 
erations except out of convenience for some colonial administration. Hav- 
ing all these individual nations combined as one political entity made 
military control and trade management more efficient. 

Even when granting "independence," the colonial powers chose only 
one cultural or national group for this dubious distinction. In Indonesia, 

35 2 


the Dutch selected the Javanese as the dominant political authority. In the 
Philippines, it was first the Spanish and then the United States that di- 
rected the process. Now we have so-called Indonesian and Philippine 
"peoples" when no such "people" ever existed. 

The result of such forced amalgamations is predictable: war. In both 
Indonesia and the Philippines, indigenous peoples seeking to retain their 
separate identity and autonomy have been pitted against the dominant 
nation-state, resulting in decades of bloody warfare. 

• • • 

The Indonesian government admits to a native population of two million, 
representing more than 100 separate native nations. In Molucca, Kaliman- 
tan, East Timor, and West Papua, huge populations are forced to submit 
to the development models of the central Javanese administration, egged 
on by international bankers and the Western technological countries. 

As mentioned earlier, the hottest spot right now is Irian Jaya (West 
Papua), New Guinea (lumped within Indonesia), where one million na- 
tives, representing dozens of tribal nations, many of whom had no contact 
with the outside world until two decades ago, are engaged in a war against 
Indonesia (or more precisely, Java). President Suharto, a Javanese, insti- 
tuted the policy of mass transmigration. Residents of Java are offered free 
land, technical aid, and cash incentives if they move to Irian Jaya, to assist 
with clearing the rainforest and developing mining. As of late 1990, more 
than a quarter of a million families have moved. 

The Indonesian central government considers transmigration good 
policy because it relieves overpopulation in Java, provides a new cheap 
work force, and puts pressure on the natives of Irian Jaya to get out. In an 
area rich in oil, copper, nickel, cobalt, tin, silver, molybdenum, and gold, 
multinationals such as Shell, Conoco, Texaco, Total, and Chevron have 
leapt at the chance to stake their claims. The International Monetary Fund 
and the World Bank are smoothing the path for them by urging Indonesia 
to clear the rainforests (for cash to repay prior bank loans) and to restruc- 
ture Irian Jaya for voracious development. The victims of this process are 
the peoples who have lived within those forests. 

Julian Burger, in Report from the Frontier, writes, "It is possible with 
legitimacy to talk about genocide elsewhere — the Mayans in Guatemala, 
the Ache in Paraguay, the Chakma in Bangladesh — but even in the con- 
text of such violence the destruction of the West Papua [Irian Jaya] people 
has few parallels. . . . The invasion of the Americas and Australia are 
being reborn | today] in West Papua." 

West Papua development policy has caused thousands of native people 



to flee across the border to relative safety in Papua, New Guinea, though 
tens of thousands are staying behind to fight in a full-scale war. The native 
resistance, which may be 20,000 strong, is no match for the huge Indone- 
sian army, supplied with U.S. helicopters and sophisticated weaponry. 
Though the media continues to describe this as a "civil war," it is not a 
civil war. By any sensible definition, it is a series of bloody massacres by 
an invading outside power acting on behalf of an alien development 
model created by international banks and corporations. To call it a civil 
war shields the public from truly understanding what is going on. 

• • • 

In the Philippines, fifty "minorities" represent about 6.5 million people out 
of a total population of 16 million. Most of these live in the forested Cor- 
dillera region of northern Luzon — the Isneg, Kainga, Bontoc, Ifugao, and 
Ibaloy — and the southernmost island of Mindanao, where the Maranao, 
Yakan, Tausag, and Bangsa Moro peoples live. The rest of the population 
is descended from the Spanish or are of mixed blood. Those are the 

During Spanish rule, from 1521 to 1896, little effort was made to assault 
most of the Indian tribes. But after the Spanish American War, the U.S. 
created laws of "eminent domain," which made communal tribal lands 
available for the first time to Filipino and American private interests for 
sugar cane, pineapple, and banana plantations. As in Hawaii, U.S. cor- 
porations were involved: Del Monte, Castle and Cooke, and United Fruit, 
among others. The afflicted native nations thus either moved further north 
or south to the extremities of their prior lands, or they stayed to become 
plantation laborers, as in Hawaii. 

In the 1960s, the Philippine government, under Ferdinand Marcos, an- 
nounced that all forest land was henceforth "public domain" and began 
clear-cutting. One-third of the Philippine forest is now gone, exported to 
the United States and Japan; many of the indigenous peoples who lived in 
these forests now have no homes. 

One corporate contract alone, to Cellophil Corporation, directly af- 
fected 150,000 tribal people, among five northern tribes in the north cen- 
tral highlands. Even greater devastation will result upon the completion 
of thirty-one dams, financed by the World Bank and the Asian Develop- 
ment Bank, that will flood the lands of 1.5 million tribal people in the 
north. Given the situation, it is little wonder that the natives have re- 
sponded so enthusiastically to the armed resistance. 

A slightly different situation exists in the south, on Mindanao, where 
the Bangsa Moro tribe, numbering more than two million people, has sue- 



cessfully resisted military invasions begun by Marcos in 1972. Nearly 
1 00,000 people have died so far in this twenty-year war, which is also called 
"civil war" by the media, though it is most definitely an invasion. The 
Bangsa Moro have never considered themselves part of the Philippines 
and, in fact, have never been conquered. They have managed to maintain 
sovereignty over their own lands throughout their history. When the me- 
dia calls this a civil war, it effectively achieves the annexation of the Bangsa 
Moro, which the Philippine army has otherwise not been able to do. 

When Corazon Aquino was elected, there was some hope that negoti- 
ations with tribal peoples might begin. But that prospect diminished al- 
most immediately when the entrenched landowners and the military 
turned against Aquino and rendered her ineffective, leaving the situation 
in stalemate. 


To attempt to convey the scope and depth of the problems of native 
peoples in Asia is profoundly frustrating; a decent discussion of the situ- 
ations in India or Burma or China or the Soviet Union would each require 
a separate book. So, again, it's with regret that I offer only a brief listing 
of numbers and a few paragraphs about a few locales. 

According to organizations such as the Minority Rights Group and 
Cultural Survival, the Asian continent is home to roughly 200 million na- 
tive people, divided into several thousand linguistic and national group- 
ings. (I am including Indonesia and the Philippines in the chart, though 
they have already been discussed above.) 





Native Population 

about 10 million, including 6.7 
million Pathan people, and 3 mil- 
lion Koochis (represents about 
70% of total population) 

1.5 million 

about 1 1 million (represents 
about 30% of total population); 
largest group is 6 million Karens 

67 million, among 55 tribal 




Native Population 

East Malaysia 
(Borneo and Sarawak) 



Malaysian Peninsula 
Soviet Union 

Sri Lanka 

500,000 people (represents 50% of 
total population) 

51 million, among 200 tribal 

1.5 million 


2.5 million 

6.5 million 

29 million (non-European na- 
tionals), including 22 million 
Turkic people, 6 million Ka- 
zakhs, and 1 million Eskimos 
and other Arctic peoples 


310,000, among 10 tribal groups 
500,000, among 6 tribal groups 
1 million 

Not included above are the 15 million Kurdish people, as their unique 
situation does not lend itself to a chart. What was once the single nation 
of Kurdistan has been militarily subjugated and is now divided among at 
least five nation-states: Soviet Armenia, Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, none 
of which is sympathetic to recognizing the Kurds as a separate nation. In 
fact, in each of the countries that control them, the Kurds are the object 
of hatred and brutality. In one famous episode in 1988, the Iraqi govern- 
ment slaughtered an entire Kurdish village with poison gas, because of the 
village's separatist activities. More recently, some one million Kurds fled 
their homes to escape the assaults of the Iraqi military, only to be met by 
cynical indifference among the world's powers, and no support for their 


In its report on the Naga tribespeople of India, the London-based Minor- 
ity Rights Group begins by asking, "What is India?" and then answers, 



"There is not, and never was, an India, or even any country of India, pos- 
sessing — according to European ideas — any sort of unity, physical, polit- 
ical, social or religious: no Indian nation, no people of India." 

Until its independence, India was only a combination of management 
units — paperwork in English headquarters. For in reality, "India' 1 was a 
wild amalgam of 200 native nations, as well as quite a few religious and 
political minorities. Mahatma Gandhi, in one of the few acts of his life 
with which I disagree, fought to maintain this fictional unity, despite its 
continuous and natural tendency to fall apart at its very weak seams. The 
Muslim leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah did manage to create a separate 
Muslim Pakistan; the Sikhs tried to do likewise, and are continuing to try, 
but thus far have succeeded only in causing extreme bloodshed in the 
northern provinces. Neither did the Justice Party succeed in establishing a 
separate Dravidian state in the south. 

But in the remote Naga lands, where about half a million people live 
in the extremely steep, rugged terrain of the Assam region of northeastern 
India, a degree of autonomy has been maintained. 

Though the British never occupied any part of the Naga homelands, 
they tacked it onto their Indian administrative apparatus. It was as if 
they couldn't figure out what else to do with this otherwise unaccounted- 
for region: They couldn't decide whether it should have been part of 
Burma or India, so some paperwork settled the case. But every effort of 
the British to actually enter the Nagan hills was met with fierce resistance 
up through the 1800s. Eventually the British gave up trying to assert phys- 
ical control and, in 1929, informally agreed that the Nagas would remain 

Before India was granted independence, the Nagas received assurances 
from Gandhi and from Jinnah that Naga sovereignty would be respected, 
and in 1947 they declared themselves an independent nation. However, 
Jawaharlal Nehru did not see it that way. He insisted that the Nagas could 
have "autonomy" only under the rule of the Assam provincial govern- 
ment, within India. This led to periods of full-scale warfare between India 
and the Nagas, with no decisive victories. At this time, the Nagas and the 
Indians have carved out a compromise: The Nagas have a separate state 
within the province of Assam, but nominally remain part of India. 


The Vietnamese peninsula is the traditional home of at least fifty native 
nations, including the Cham, the Khmer, and the 800,000 Montagnards of 
the highland areas, who also include the Nung, the white Tai, the black 



Tai, the Tho, Muong, Yao, and Meo. The Montagnards, survivors from at 
least the Bronze Age, are skilled agriculturalists, capable of sophisticated 
irrigation to grow rice on steep, terraced fields. 

When the French colonists arrived in the nineteenth century, they 
promised that the various tribes would have control over their own re- 
gions, including actual deeds of land ownership. But following the Ge- 
neva conference of 1954 and the establishment of South Vietnam, dictator 
Ngo Dinh Diem decided to assimilate all native people within one Viet- 
namese culture. According to a Minority Rights Group report, Diem's 
policies "meant a slow and systematic destruction of the way of life of the 
Montagnards and their cultural identity, designed to rob them of their 
land and make them disappear as a people. . . . Montagnards were driven 
from the land of their forefathers and their properties were distributed . . . 
[even] the official use and teachings of the Montagnard languages were 
prohibited," as were Montagnard hair styles. 

Despite their treatment, the Montagnards fought for the South Viet- 
namese government and the American army in the Vietnam War, which 
has further complicated their lives. When the war was lost, thousands of 
Montagnards fled to the United States. They are now attempting to re- 
create their agricultural lives in California's Central Valley, where they are 
facing American-style racism. 


Reading about the political upheaval in Burma in American newspapers, 
one is hard pressed to find a single reference to the fact that the political 
resistance to the brutal military dictatorship of the last three decades is led 
by the Karen tribe. When the British controlled Burma, the Karens in- 
sisted on maintaining their separate nationhood. The English hedged on 
the promise and created Burma, another fictitious entity made up of at 
least eleven separate nations now dominated by the Burman tribe. General 
Ne Win took over as dictator and created a new constitution that was rig- 
idly centralist and recognized no rights of other tribal peoples. Conse- 
quently, the six million Karens formed a 20,000-strong army under a 
complete political organization, with a prime minister, a committee of 
Karen elders, and ministers of state. In 1976, the Karens and the eight 
other largest tribes formed an alliance to overthrow the Burmese and es- 
tablish a new federation that would allow social and cultural autonomy 
for all indigenous groups. Their coalition succeeded in winning an elec- 
tion in 1990, but as this book goes to press the military has not yielded 
control and has kept opposition leaders under house arrest. 



The Soviet Union 

With so much media attention on Russian "ethnic minorities" these 
days — not from any devotion to minority rights, but rather from glee at 
the breakdown of communist rule — I will only briefly mention a few facts 
that tend to not be reported. In addition to the Lithuanians, Estonians, 
Latvians, Armenians, Ukrainians, and Georgians, all of whom are in the 
news, there are some 22 million Turkic peoples in Central Asia, about 6 
million Kazaks living near the Chinese border, Kurdish people adjoining 
their own tribes across the arbitrary borders of Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and 
a profusion of Arctic peoples, including Eskimos and nomadic Chuckchi 
reindeer herders, cousins of the Sami of Scandinavia. 

The northern peoples of the Soviet Union have been impacted by a pol- 
icy that, though not officially called transmigration, has the same effect. 
Hundreds of thousands of Russians have moved north to find jobs mining 
nickel, tin, copper and coal, iron and oil, natural gas, gold, and diamonds. 
Though this policy has not met with violence in the Soviet Union — which 
has granted greater cultural recognition to tribal minorities than most 
other countries of the world — native groups are finding it increasingly 
difficult to maintain cultural and economic autonomy. 

China and Tibet 

There are fifty-five officially recognized "national minorities" (what we 
have been calling native nations) within China's borders today. They rep- 
resent roughly seven percent of the total population, or about 67 million 
people. Included in the figures are the Zhuang (10 million), the Hui (6 
million), the Uygar (5 million), the Miao (4 million), and the Tibetans 
(nearly 4 million). Several of these "minorities," as well as other smaller 
groups, have fought bloody wars to resist incorporation into China. In the 
past 200 years the Turkic peoples have revolted at least three dozen times 
against rule by the majority Han Chinese. More recently news reports 
have concentrated on fierce resistance in Tibet. 

Many of China's so-called minorities have had glorious pasts, notably 
the Mongols, whose thirteenth-century empires reached westward to Eu- 
rope, and the Tibetans, whose civilization has lasted at least two millennia 
and who are considered among the world s most refined people, psycho- 
logically, socially, spiritually, and artistically. 

Chinese policy towards these separate cultures has gone through many 
changes, but in recent history the significance of the communist revolution 
is paramount. While fighting Chiang Kai-shek the communists promised 



the Mongolians, Tibetans, and Turkics complete autonomy. But once in 
power, the position was modified. Though all "national minorities" are 
guaranteed "equality," and certain elements of autonomy were instituted 
in five regions, in practice regional regimes were forced to adhere to cen- 
tral economic and cultural directives. 

During certain periods "national minorities" were directly assaulted. In 
the 1950s Eastern Turkestan peoples, who follow Muslim religion and 
have a very distinct culture from the Han Chinese, found themselves the 
target of forced assimilation. According to Julian Burger's Report from the 
Frontier, some 360,000 Turkics were executed and half a million were sent 
to labor camps. Then the Han Chinese transmigrated to Turkestan, which 
made the native population a minority, unable to influence the central gov- 
ernment's decisions to exploit uranium, coal, and petroleum reserves for 
development purposes. 

The most well-known of today's conflicts is taking place in Tibet. 
Chinese armies invaded Tibet in 1950, after centuries of refusing its sep- 
arate nationhood. Since then more than one million Tibetans have died 
resisting the invaders. In an open effort to forever suppress the elaborate 
and celebrated Tibetan culture, the Chinese have destroyed more than 
6,000 monasteries, which also housed most of the Tibetan nation's art, re- 
ligious artifacts, and books. 

According to John Avedon in his book Tibet Today, 60 percent of Ti- 
bet's philosophic, historical, and biographical literature has been burned, 
one out of ten Tibetans has been imprisoned, and two-thirds of the orig- 
inal Tibetan territory has been appended to China. Only parts of central 
and eastern Tibet now remain as the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Re- 
gion. At this time, over 100,000 Tibetans are in exile, another 100,000 are 
in labor camps, and more than 250,000 Chinese soldiers are stationed on 
the Tibetan Plateau. The Tibetan people are permitted no freedom of 
movement, given insufficient education and health services, and suffer 
fourteen hours of daily labor and political re-education meetings. In ad- 
dition, entire mountainsides have been deforested, and Tibet's unique 
wildlife species, including herds of gazelle and wild ass, as well as flocks 
of bar-headed geese, have been obliterated. "In sum, a 2,100-year-old civ- 
ilization was essentially destroyed in a mere twenty years," said Avedon. 

Perhaps most insidious is China's transmigration policy, designed to 
make Tibetans a minority population in their own land. Some 7.5 million 
Chinese (mostly Han) have been moved to Tibet, where they outnumber 
the native population of 6 million. According to Avedon, "This popula- 
tion manipulation is the very means by which the PRC has overcome op- 
position in every other minority area. In Manchuria the ratio of Chinese 



to native inhabitants is about thirty-five to one, in Mongolia five to one. In 
Eastern Turkestan or Sinkiang there are now 15 million Chinese to 7.5 
million East Turkestanis. . . . Within two to five years a point of no return 
may well be crossed in Tibet itself. The infrastructure that China is cur- 
rently building will then be ready for a truly massive migration to 

That's the bad news. The good news is that Tibetans are among the few 
native peoples to be getting significant support from Westerners, partic- 
ularly Americans and Europeans. This is due to the Western interest in 
Tibetan Buddhism, the activism of such groups as Humanitas and Am- 
nesty International, and the immense influence of the 1989 Nobel Peace 
Prize winner, the Dalai Lama, as he travels and speaks throughout the 
world. "The struggle of the Tibetan people is a struggle for our inalien- 
able right to determine our own destiny in freedom ... a struggle for our 
survival as a people and a nation. ... A future free Tibet will seek to help 
those in need throughout the world, to protect nature, and to promote 
peace," the Tibetan leader has said. 




In Chapter 16 I described how the United States press called the Alaska 
Native Claims Settlement Act a financial bonanza for the state's natives, 
when actually it was one of the most sophisticated frauds in two centuries 
of duplicitous dealings between the U.S. and the Indians. 

Now in 1 991 , the Canadian press is using similar language to praise the 
"huge financial awards" being reaped by the Eskimo (Inuit), the Dene, and 
the Metis of the Northwest Territories in settlement of their "land claims." 
The Canadian deal is actually quite different from the American deal — 
there's no corporate intervention — but the outcome is identical. The press 
praises the government's apparent generosity, and the Indians are de- 
scribed as land and cash rich. Neither turns out to be true. Because of this 
acclaimed new settlement, the Indians may actually lose title to most of 
their lands, while the oil and gas companies will have greater ability to 
invade without fear of legal challenge. 

Negotiations first began with the Inuit, the Dene, and the mixed-blood 
Metis when the natives sought to control development on their lands. They 
wanted confirmation of aboriginal title to all of the Northwest Territories, 
where they have lived for millennia. They wanted Canada to establish two 
new autonomous provinces, Denendeh and Nunavut, and to grant them 
self-government and full control of resources. (See also Chapter 6.) 

The Canadian government feared that if natives owned the land, they 



would continue their traditional economy — trapping, hunting, fishing — 
rather than adapt the development economy the government preferred. 
But when early legal challenges seemed to confirm the native claim to ab- 
original title, the government came to the bargaining table to seek com- 
promise. In the end, the natives compromised more than Canada did. 

The natives were finally offered four separate draft agreements that 
confirmed title to about 660,000 square kilometers within the Northwest 
Territories, as well as an award of J1.5 billion. This sounds generous until 
you realize that, if all the agreements are ratified, the natives will give up 
about 80 percent of the lands they arguably have owned until now, and 
will agree not to seek to reclaim title to any of those lands. 

The natives were granted few of the self-governance options they 
sought in those negotiations. The only bones thrown to them were some 
promises of "equal participation*' on advisory panels and management 
boards controlling resources and economic development. These panels 
will include representatives of the Canadian government, the territorial 
government, and the land claimants. The natives also stand to share some 
of the royalties for oil, gas, and mining. (The only exception was that the 
Eastern Arctic Inuit were given hope for a self-governing entity of some 
kind, for which negotiations have begun.) 

As for the $1.5 billion in cash, that doesn't really go to the natives. It 
will be paid in installments over fifteen years into government trust ac- 
counts held on behalf of the tribes. Money will be parceled out from the 
interest for projects that the tribes wish to undertake, subject to govern- 
ment approval. 

So rather than achieving a financial bonanza, the native peoples of the 
north may finally lose title to most of their lands, have their sovereignty 
denied, and be set up for an industrial penetration that will seriously 
threaten traditional economies, environment, and culture. 

• • • 

Elsewhere in Canada, other Indians are also causing controversy. The 
Meech Lake Accord was to have granted the Province of Quebec "special 
status," because of its distinct culture and language. The agreement was 
blocked, however, when several Indian groups, especially from Manitoba, 
demanded similar "special status" based on their prior occupancy and 
had sufficient political clout in their provinces to thwart the national 

The Indians were roundly criticized for their action, since it could even- 
tually cause the secession of Quebec. But one native leader, interviewed by 
the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, put it this way: "They're happy to 



give special status to Quebec because of its culture and language, but we 
have a culture and language and history here that precedes the Quebecois 
by thousands of years. We've been trying for special recognition since we 
were invaded. Why should we now just go along with Quebec's sover- 
eignty dreams when they won't recognize ours?" 

The Indians' successful demonstration of power in blocking Meech 
Lake may have been the impetus for the Mohawk Indian action outside 
Montreal in early 1990. When a suburban town began to expand its nine- 
hole golf course to eighteen holes, on land the Mohawk have traditionally 
claimed as theirs, the Indians roadblocked an important bridge, causing 
massive traffic delays for several months and producing a show of force by 
the Canadian army. As this book goes to press, the situation is at a standoff, 
but negotiations have begun. 

Meanwhile, not far away, other Mohawk are involved in a complex bat- 
tle essentially created by the arbitrary division of the Mohawk Nation into 
American and Canadian reservations: Akwesasne on the American side 
of the border, and St. Regis in Canada. As with native nations elsewhere 
on the planet, such a division is intolerable to a people who were once 

The discord accelerated in 1 989 after the government on the Akwesasne 
Reservation, created by the U.S. through the Indian Reorganization Act, 
instituted gambling casino operations. This created a split within the Mo- 
hawk, many of whom didn't want outsiders on the reservation for gam- 
bling. The rift soon spilled over the border, involving relatives in Canada. 
Matters were made worse by the fact that the casinos were privately 
owned. Since the profits were great, a quasimilitary was created by the 
owners to enforce their wishes. When violence broke out, the New York 
State Police, the FBI, the Canadian Mounties, and representatives of other 
agencies all became involved, causing a mass of confusion and hostility 
typical of situations where traditional authority has been usurped by oc- 
cupying powers. 

In the Toronto Globe and Mail, a former resident of Akwesasne, 
Kahn-Tineta Horn, argued that the fault for the hostilities lay with "legal 
systems that not only differ from each other but are alien to the native tra- 
dition." She indicated that similar problems in the past had only been set- 
tled when the natives abandoned foreign legal systems and returned to the 
"political and social institutions of the Iroquois Confederacy." Horn 
pointed out that "the traditional approach hasn't been given a chance. Its 
influence is growing but outside interference hasn't gone away. The Ca- 
nadian and U.S. governments still impose their laws and deal exclusively 
with the [recognized] chiefs and elected band councils . . . puppet govern- 

3 6 4 


ments bypassing the traditional Iroquois forms of government. . . . The 
answer to the problem is to make the family whole again and let the Mo- 
hawks settle it themselves." 


We tend not to think of European countries as containing any native 
nations, even when newspapers carry reports of Basque "separatists" in 
France and Spain, or of Serbians, Croats, and Slovenians in Yugoslavia, or 
Lapps in Scandinavia, or Bretons in France, or Frieslanders in northern 
Europe. They are all characterized by the media as "ethnic minorities," 
which ignores the fact that all were once separate nations. Some of these 
nations have histories going back thousands of years. The Frieslanders, for 
example, occupied the entire northern coast of continental Europe at the 
time of Christ, but are now divided among Holland, Belgium, and Ger- 
many. Few people are aware that the English language is linguistically 
more closely related to Frisian than to any other tongue. Or that in 1782 
Friesland was the first European nation to grant official recognition to the 
new United States of America. 

More to our purposes perhaps is the situation of the Sami people (Lapp- 
landers), whose nation is also divided: 35,000 live in Norway, 17,000 in 
Sweden, 4,000 in Finland, and 2,000 in the Soviet Union. Despite this sep- 
aration, their culture, heritage, and economic practices are still very much 

A Caucasian people, the Sami have roamed across the northernmost 
reaches of the world for at least 5,000 years, living by reindeer herding and 
small-scale agriculture. They were fortunate to be left alone for most of 
their history, because the climate in which they live is so forbidding and 
harsh. But lately, the crush for resources to feed the industrial machine, 
and the fallout of our technological society — as well as the literal nuclear 
fallout from Chernobyl — have threatened the Sami survival as never 

In an article in Whole Earth Review, journalist Jon Stewart summarized 
the Sami situation: 

Like the American Indian, the Sami is indivisible from the land, 
which for many centuries has provided the grazing pastures for im- 
mense herds of reindeer, which still constitute the central symbol of 
Sami culture and economic life. Though a number of treaties over 
the last 200 years have guaranteed the Sami sovereignty over their 
lands, today the Sami resources — like those of the American In- 



dian — are simply too valuable for the central states to ignore. The 
most valuable resource of all is water, for energy generation, and it 
is the struggle over that commodity that has galvanized the Sami 
into an extraordinary political movement in the last few years. 

Though more than 100 recent water-diversion schemes in northern 
Scandinavia have now flooded Sami valleys, their major struggle has con- 
cerned the proposed Alta-Kautokeino Dam, which would destroy a valley 
inhabited by 30,000 reindeer. In 1978, some 8,000 non-natives joined the 
Sami in a 104-day blockage of the project. The protest was eventually met 
by a level of police brutality rarely experienced in Norwegian history. Pub- 
lic outrage over the police action, combined with new policies from several 
successive environmentally oriented Norwegian governments, have sent 
the dam project into limbo, and left the Sami more politicized. According 
to young Sami leader Ande Goup, as quoted by Jon Stewart, "If we are to 
have a future we must gain control over our own lives and our land. But 
the colonizers have been standing on our toes for so long that they get an- 
gry when we try to lift our feet. 1 ' 

The Sami sufTered a major setback in 1988, with the terrible events at 
Chernobyl. Clouds of radiation were blown directly westward from the 
plant over to Lappland, leaving the entire northern tundra radioactive. 
Most of the reindeer that were saved when the Alta-Kautokeino Dam was 
blocked had to be destroyed for having eaten radioactive grasses. 

Despite their difficulties, the Sami are pushing ahead, demanding that 
new laws be made to protect their lifestyle and language, and that further 
water-development projects in the north be halted. They have joined 
forces with other groups opposing Norway's entry into the European Eco- 
nomic Community in 1992, for fear of the development pressures that 
would bring. Meanwhile, they are attempting to repopulate the northern 
reindeer herds. 


Here we have a paradox. Except for South Africa and Namibia, indig- 
enous groups are in power in most African countries, which has brought 
an end to the colonial period. The countries themselves, however, were 
created along geographical boundaries that have more to do with the 
needs of the old colonial administrations than with Africa's hundreds of 
precolonial native nations. 

According to the Minority Rights Group, "Almost all African states are 
geographically the creation of Europeans: That is to say they are artificial 
in that they are the product, not of their own people's history, but of the 

3 66 


rivalries of distant European powers. Because of this, almost all of them 
suffer from serious internal divisions." The Sudan and Ethiopia are good 


In the Sudan, a horrifying war is now taking place between the peoples of 
the southern Sudan and the peoples of the north, none of whom should 
ever have been jammed into one political unit. The responsible colonial 
powers in this case were the Egyptians and the English, who merged the 
northern, brown-skinned Hamito-Semite peoples, who are Arabs, with 
the Negroid tribes of the south. It was a merger between different econ- 
omies as well as races: The northern tribes' traditional economies were 
based on Nile River Valley trading routes, using camel caravans, while the 
southern peoples were rainforest dwellers or, in the case of the Dinkas, 
nomadic cattle herders. 

As usual, it was the colonists' greed for raw materials that set the north- 
south conflict into motion. The "raw material" in this case was people — 
black slaves. In the 1800s, the Egyptians urged the Arabic peoples of the 
north to kidnap dark-skinned southerners for the slave trade, creating en- 
mities that have never subsided. Matters were made more complex by the 
Christian missionaries from England, who divided up the southern re- 
gions among Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Presbyterians, creating 
new polarities. When Egypt granted independence in 1957, and a new, 
fictional Sudanese "nation" was created that attempted to amalgamate all 
this diversity, northern military generals staged a coup to establish the 
north's rule. More coups have followed, though the rulership of the north 
has been maintained, along with the bloody war. 


When the Italian colonists withdrew in 194 1, after fifty years of occupa- 
tion, they handed rule to the minority Amharic people, led first by Me- 
nelik II and then Hailie Selassie. Though the Amharic account for only 
15 percent of the population of the amalgamated state of Ethiopia, they 
have forcibly dominated government posts and ruling committe